Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Not Another Teen (Short) Movie

Recently, a reader sent me an email about a short film her daughters had produced:

My three teenage daughters made this movie. When they had to come up with a story I was surprised that this was on their mind. It's a short movie (2.5 minutes) about a girl and her decision to stand up against the onslaught of marketing messages that pressure girls to change their bodies. It's meant to help start a discussion on the subject of eating disorders. If you think it is appropriate could you pass this on to other people, if the film receives enough votes to place it in the top 25 vote getters it will be placed on iTunes so everyone can get this message. You can go to www.rustsisters.com to learn more about the film and find a link to the apple website to view the movie and vote. If they win they will get some laptop computers and software for movie making so they do benefit from publicity, but having said that I still think that the short movie turned out as a good conversation starter, it certainly did for me and my daughters and maybe it might make someone else realize that they might be following the same destructive path.

You can check out the Rust sisters' site as well as watch the movie here. Let me know what you think. . .

The Vagina Dialogues

Today, I'd like to talk about your vagina. All of ours, in fact.

Of course, we probably shouldn't say that.

In an article in the Style section in this past weekend's New York Times, Stephanie Rosenbloom examines the acceptance of the newly introduced slang, "vajayjay."

Cute, huh?

It appeared on Grey's Anatomy. It's tossed around casually between friends. Hell, Oprah used it!

But, there's a little bit of a problem here, I think. Yes, it's catchy, playful, even F.C.C.-friendly, but, more than anything, it's avoidant. And it connotes that our vaginas are. . . not so acceptable to us (or anyone else).

It seems, according to the article, that the folks at Grey's were forced into vajayjay territory after using the word vagina one too many times in an episode script. Apparently, there's a limit to the number of times you can say vagina on tv (which, incidentally, appears to be lower than the number of times you can say penis), and thus vajayjay was introduced into our current zeitgeist.

Which saves us, thankfully, from having to utter vagina. Or worse, yet, vulva, labia, or clitoris.

But, the less we say these words, the more problems we introduce. The Times quotes Eve Ensler, of "The Vagina Monologuea" years back: "'. . . what we don't say becomes a secret, and secrets often create shame and fear andmyths.'" Ensler refers to vagina as a word "'that stirs up anxiety, awkwardness, contemmpt and disgust.'" Kinda makes me want to say vagina, over and over again, in a classic exposure paradigm. Given that Ensler's work focused largely on sexual trauma, I'm also wondering the effect that cutsey words like vajayjay have on women's sexual rights.

My doctoral dissertation focused on sexual communiation, conversations prospective partners have with one another about sex. The upshot is that people are much more comfortable having sex than talking about it. This doesn't bode so well for protecting ourselves against sexual assault, disease transmission, etc. Vajayjay is just another way out from having to face the truth.

And, what about how acceptance of our vaginas is linked to overall acceptance of our bodies? It reminds me of a talk radio episode I heard several years back while on the way to work. The topic was some variation of eating disorders/body image in young girls, and the discussion focused on how parents (mothers, in particular), in an effort to encourage body acceptance, should teach their daughters about "down there." What? Down where? We should be teaching our daughters about their vaginas! Because, if we avoid the words (and therefore, the topic), they will, too. I'm with Dr. Carol Livoti, an ob-gyn quoted in the article, who states: "'It's time to start calling anatomical organs by their anatomical names. We should be proud of our bodies.'"

We should. And, we shouldn't be reduced to calling a part of our body something different, something more acceptable to others. Because the more likely we are to do that, the more likely we are to feel the need to mold other parts of our anatomy, our thinking, feelings, and behavior, to others' expectations.

So, here's to your vagina, the glory of your vulva and all it's parts, because it's one aspect of our anatomy, that simply by using its given name, we can make significant strides toward sexual empowerment and body acceptance. And, that's a large part of why we're all here. . . .

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stories: Part III

Posted with permission. . .

I remember using food to comfort myself from the time I was a small child. I had (have?) father issues, I could go on and on here but I won't. When I was 19 my step dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I had been working out and making healthy dietary changes, but over time as my life seemed to spin more and more OUT of my control, I tightened the reigns on my eating and exercise. Very textbook, though I had no idea what was happening at the time. I thought I was simply "being healthy". At 5'5" I dropped from 145 pounds (a healthy weight for my height!) to 88 pounds and 5.5% bodyfat. I remember the day my weight read under 100 pounds. I couldn't believe it, it was very surreal, almost like a dream (nightmare?). But I didn't know what to do; I still wasn't satisfied with my body, I couldn't stop working out or carefully measuring my food, planning all my meals, counting calories... I was TRAPPED. I lost a handful of "friends", the love of my life... I shut out the real world so that I could maintain this strict, regimented lifestyle. This lasted for about 4 years. What a sad, dark, black hole in my life.

After about a year of nutritional therapy, when I was 23, I began to gain weight. I don't know how else to put it... when I say that something just CLICKED, like a switch being shut off, I mean it. Something finally gave and like THAT I was bingeing, something AWFUL. I couldn't focus in college, all I thought about was hitting up the vending machine for junk that I hadn't let myself have in literally years. My stomach was always horribly distended and bloated... the skin on my belly, hips and thighs was always SORE from stretching at such a rapid pace... in a matter of months, maybe 9 or 10 months, I gained over 100 pounds. I finally topped out at 205 pounds. I could not stop eating and with each bite I hated myself more and more. Again, I was stuck in a cycle that I didn't know how to stop.

I finally got a grip (somewhat) and am back to 145 pounds, but I stay here with rigid "dieting" throughout the week (6 small meals of veggies, protein and fruit each day) and inevitably bingeing my brains out on the weekend. I always say oh, I won't binge this weekend. I'm doing so well! It is the worst feeling ever to not be able to have just one cookie without it sending me into a total downward spiral of carb coma madness. It's shameful. It's not healthy. I'm always striving for something better, always telling myself that life REALLY starts once I'm a size 6 or 4 (I'm currently an 8/10)... I'll pursue my dreams/take that class/decorate the house/BE HAPPY once I reach a certain size or my body fat drops past a certain level. IT IS INSANE. And I ask you, why? WHY? Why does this make sense to me, why have I WASTED 27 years trying to fit that mold? FOR WHAT? I am the only one that really cares. I have a wonderful family, a loving husband, an amazing 2-year old boy, a great job... life is good. But it would always be BETTER if I could lose 10 or 15 pounds.

So yesterday I came across your blogs (editor's note: mine and Margaux's, Size Ate). I read through them during every minute of my free time. I'm missing out on life. Why not eat what I want? Go have lunch with my coworkers, order something that sounds delicious, eat slowly, enjoy everything the meal has to offer, leave feeling satisfied but not stuffed, and without that pesky internal calorie counter that just won't quit. I have an established exercise regime that I enjoy... I LOVE working out, love to move my body... but within reason. It's food that is my issue. And it has got to stop. I have got to stop obsessing. Every day I thank GOD for not giving me a baby girl. She'd be a total mess from the start. And my boy deserves better than a mom who looks at life as something that happens between unenjoyable protein and carb balanced mini-meals. How fucking sick is that?

There's so much more to it all than I've said here. Just know that I am going to FIGHT to get my life back. It's scary, I haven't listened to my internal hunger signals in YEARS... or ever? I know it won't be easy, but given that my other option is to STAY IN THE HELL I AM IN NOW, I'll take my chances and give it my all. I have nothing to lose! (Well, I could make a joke here but I won't. Sheesh.)

I'm finally getting to the point where I truly believe that it really isn't about food at all. Friends and family were (are?) aware, and lots of the questions I asked myself in my email to you were prompted by things that were said on your site. Let me tell you, years of therapy and two Geneen Roth books later I was STILL struggling, and your site is what FINALLY crossed me over to the other side. I just ate a bowl of raisin bran with soy milk. I love raisin bran. I haven't LET myself eat cereal in YEARS (but I sure have binged on it!). When I'm done I will move on with my day, ready to face whatever is thrown at me. And guess what? I didn't gain 100 pounds from letting myself have a bowl. Who knew? Freedom = an allowed, calmly eaten bowl of rasin bran.

Monday, October 22, 2007

No Escape

In 13 short days, I'll be working as a psychologist on the "psyching team" at the New York City marathon, helping runners relax, cope with pre-race jitters, etc. Just a couple hours after that, I'll cross the starting line myself, setting out to run my second 26.2.

I've been doing most of my training indoors (at the gym), in the name of injury prevention. What's interesting to me, and why I bring up running in the first place, is the assortment of comments I've received. Of course, no one knows I'm a psychologist; no one knows about my blog. Here are a couple of my exchanges:

1) During one long(er) run, I wore yoga pants, in the name of comfort. Boy, was I wrong. Yoga pants are made for yoga, not for running, silly! My comfortable yoga pants kept falling down, and I spent the majority of my run pulling them up, like a bridesmaid tugging at her strapless dress. At one point, I announced this to my treadmill neighbor (who is often my treadmill neighbor, and with whom I've become friendly over time). "My pants keep falling down," I complained.

"That's a good thing!" she congratulated me.

Why is that a good thing? My pants keep falling down!

2) A couple of weeks ago, I did my longest training run (again indoors). In the elevator down to the locker room (because, yes, I take the elevator at the gym, particularly after running 20 miles), a guy pointed to my sweaty head and asked, "Did you just work out?" (There's a pool at the gym, so he seemed to be wondering if the soakage was sweat or chlorinated water from a swim).

"Yeah, I just ran 20 miles," I replied proudly.

"Wow!" he exclaimed. And then a moment later: "If you keep that up, you'll lose lots of weight."

Thanks, buddy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Just Like Glitter

Newsflash: Mariah Carey's lost some weight. Again. This comes after she gained some weight. Again.

In an OK magazine article titled, "Mariah: How I Got Thin," we learn that Mariah has last almost 30 pounds in the last seven months. Her secret? No, no, it's not her forkful diet again. This time, Mariah's lost the weight by reportedly "eating a plain diet of soup and fish, following a strict workout plan and--most importantly--by not stressing about how her body looks."

Does that sentence even make sense? The article is full of contradictions like this--if you're not stressing about how your body looks, then why are you eating what she reports is her own words as a "bleak diet" and stating, "'I still feel like I have a ways to go, but it is what it is. . . . It does feel good when you get into a nice size three and you're like, "It feels big in here." We should all embrace who are are physically.'" Mixed messages much? And, what's a size three, anyway?

Her trainer, Patricia, says that Mariah's workouts depend on her daily intake: "'If she's serious about the food, then she doesn't have to work out that much.'" Besides sounding like an entry to exercise bulimia, isn't this statement just flat out wrong? Shouldn't a personal trainer be promoting exercise across the board?

Mariah says of Patricia: "'I love her. But sometimes, she can be very strict. If I want a little snack, I know if Patricia's in the kitchen, she's going to give me something really bleak to eat, so I don't even bother going downstairs. I just send somebody else to get something for me and sneak it up!'" Sneaking food when deprived--another pathway to an eating disorder.

"'I like flavor in my life. I don't just want chicken stock and zucchini and carrots and call it a day. Patricia will also give me fish and chicken." Well, thank goodness for that. My concern, as you can see, is that the "every woman" who reads this type of article doesn't even stop to realize how flat-out wrong it is--how the messages contained within promote (clearly) yo-yo dieting and (with a little more subtlety) eating disordered thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. And then there's Dr. Jackowski. . .

In the article, "body image expert," Dr. Edward Jackowski, comments on one of Mariah's shots: "'Her upper body and stomach look good in this photo. She can carry more weight because she's got the wide shoulders and boobs to support it.'" Um, why is a doctor using the word, "boobs"? (Plus, what's a body image expert? Wasn't that akin to my new title? ; ))

Dr. Jackowski, who earned his Doctorate in Behavioral Management from the International University for Graduate Studies, is well-known for classifying us into four body types (it's not just apples and pears, anymore, ladies). Think you're a professional? A wife? A mother? A functional member of society? Uh-uh. You're a spoon. Or an hourglass, a ruler, or cone. Now, carry on, as your intended shape. Me? Looks like I require a trip to the ice cream shoppe. ; )

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Joy Nash, At it Again

Thanks to an anonymous reader who shared Ms. Nash's most recent gem. . .

Monday, October 08, 2007

Title Me This

I know it's not true. But, if you've read my intro, you know that I really don't think we all have eating disorders, but some sort of disordered eating or body image concern. Not everyone. Maybe not you. But most of us. And that was the original point.

Plus, as I've mentioned before, the title was meant to be provocative. It's also kinda catchy, I think. It's the kind of title I'd pick up at Barnes & Noble because, apparently, I DO judge a book by it's cover.

But, some of your feedback has led me to believe it's not the best title. It could be off-putting, it reflects poorly on women, etc. A publisher I had hoped to work with originally said she loved the title. When she met with the rest of her staff, they ended up rejecting the project. One of the reasons she offered? The title. They felt that most women would not be willing to pick up the book, be seen with it, etc.

Recently, I've thought about: "EWHAED. . . or Something Like it." What are your thoughts? (on this or other possible titles)

Without using this title, how can I capture my premise, attract an audience, and still incite debate and contemplation?

Any other ideas?

A Relative Plus Size

As you can clearly see from the photo above, America's Next Top Model has again included a plus-sized model in its cast for cycle 9.

Which one is she, you ask? C'mon. . . It's Sarah!

Here's Sarah during her rock-climbing shoot. Tyra? Are you there? The only thing plus-sized about this woman are her heels!

Kinda makes you just want to throw your hands up and surrender. . . But then, along comes Dove, with its latest marketing campaign:


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mirror, Mirror

Often, women with body image issues will use the mirror the way they use the scale, for frequent, instantaneous feedback on the value of their self-worth. Stomach look flat enough? Check. Hips look too wide? Devastation.

A number of writers in the eating disorders field encourage mirror exercises, in which you expose yourself to your reflection (first clothed, then, for the more advance, naked) as a way to address negative body image. Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter, of Overcoming Overeating and When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies (see sidebar) call the exercise "mirror work" and suggest you stand in front of the mirror and make non-judgmental statements about your body. "My arms look big." Judgment. "Here, the angle of my legs increases." Non-judgment. The goal is to engage only in non-judgmental statements about your body. If you can't, slowly back away from the mirror. . . and try again another time.

Thomas Cash, in the The Body Image Workbook writes about "mirror desensitization." The term "desensitization" is borrowed from behavioral psychology. Usually used with phobias, psychologists will encourage patients to expose themselves to their phobic stimuli, with the idea that with time and exposure, anxiety will fade. Afraid of spiders? Hang out with one for an hour. Scared of elevators/heights/subways/crowds/rats? Come to New York!

With mirror desensitization, the idea is create a "Ladder of Body Areas," in which you rank a number of your body parts on a satisfaction hierarchy--the part or parts of your body that you're most satisfied with go on the bottom, while those you detest the most go up top. Once you've done this, you're ready to face the mirror.

Stand in front of your mirror and begin by looking at a particular body part that doesn't cause you much distress to view--maybe even a part of your body you like. Breathe. Relax. Think pleasant thoughts. Then, according to Cash, go to a body part that causes a bit more discomfort for you. Look at the body part for a full minute. Shut your eyes and relax. Cash encourage readers, systematically, to work their way up their "Ladder of Body Areas" until they reach the top (i.e., the part of your body you find most difficult to view). Does this happen immediately? Of course not. Mirror desensitization will usually take multiple sessions--do a couple of body parts at at time. If you can't relax, breathe, and avoid judgment, stay at that particular rung until you can.

Hard work? Potentially. Impossible? Not at all. The goal is to work your way toward what I call "mirror indifference." You can look or not; it doesn't matter. You don't feel the need to pause at every mirror you see. Your reflection says nothing about who you are, and a mirror, is, after all, just a piece of broken glass.

*Yes, the picture of the broken mirror above is mine; no, I didn't do it purposely. ; )

Monday, October 01, 2007

Summer Love

I gotta say, lately, I've been digging Justin Timberlake. Not in a rob-the-cradle, rock-your-body, kinda way, but more because he likes his women sexy. Recently, he's been choosing leading ladies with flesh. With curves. With a little bit of meat on their still-thin frames.

Have you seen his HBO special? (Sadly,) I was struck by his choice of back-up dancers. In my sporadic viewing of the show, I didn't see one skin-on-bones dancer. Granted, the ladies' pelvic-gyrating, crotch-bearing poses weren't necessarily an advertisement for feminism per se, but at least their bodies were as solid as their performance.

Scarlett Johansson? Jessica Biel? His romantic choices reflect the same attraction to a healthy female physique. JT, single-handedly bringing sexy back. . .