Monday, March 30, 2009

Stories: Part VI

I heart mail (reprinted with permission):

Dear Dr. Stacey,

I am new to your blog, and for the past few days I've been reading it as voraciously as I would a paperback, mystery beach-read. You really hammer home issues that I've both consciously pondered and avoided. Although I would like us to be a community of body-happy women, I selfishly can take some comfort in the fact that I am not alone in my struggles.

Up until a couple of years ago, I always thought I had a healthy body image. One of my best friends in high school struggled with anorexia, then bulimia, then a vicious cycle of both. I was the closest to her at the time, and my own worry for her well-being, coupled with teenage angst, caused me to lose a bit of weight as well. I never really considered it at the time, with all the eating issues that circulated high school, I was healthy in comparison. Only now can I look back and see that I seemed to have a little of what was going around. Throughout college, my weight was never an issue, I noticed when I got stressed that pounds would actually, subconsciously, drop away. I'm an outdoorsy, sporty person, but never made a task of going to the gym. Only when I graduated, moved to NY (land of delicious take out) and started a more desk/sedentary lifestyle did I begin to notice my clothes were a little tighter...

About two years ago, I made a conscious decision to start eating healthier and got a gym membership. The token '5 lbs' that I had wanted to lose came off, and I continued on my new routine. My weight dropped lower. I've always been athletic, and at 5'3 am probably healthiest at my average weight of 120. A few pounds may not mean much, but working out daily and restricting calories caused a loss that dropped me into a less practical range. I thought this weight loss was akin to health, but my constant hunger, and increasing unwillingness to take a day off from the gym lest I feel guilty, told me otherwise.

I didn't listen to these signals, and one day found myself devouring whatever I could find in the apartment. Food was always on my mind; I wasn't even finished chewing my first meal of the day, while already plotting & yearning for my second. My 'splurge' takeout meal on Sunday nights would get me through the week, and once I got there I'd eat so much, preparing for the hibernation of the week to come, causing the most uncomfortable feeling. Overall, I was confused by these binges- I was eating so healthily, why did I have to do this? I started eating bigger meals at night and eased up on the restriction, but the binging continued sporadically. I still remember the day that I decided I hated being so uncomfortably full, and decided to purge. I was angry and baffled at myself, and all I could think of was my friend from high school. I was in my mid-twenties- why was this happening to me now? I saw girls go through it, and I know the havoc it can wreak on your body and emotions, but here I was, voluntarily putting myself in the same position. My frustration continued, the binges continued, and so did the occasional purging, for about a year. It still frustrates me that I put myself through this situation, after all, I never wanted to be stick thin, and I believe when I look in the mirror I do see the real me, but I still chose to lose a few pounds because I felt tired and uncomfortable a lot of the time.

I gained a few pounds back- a struggle- but with that, I think I've gained some really healthy perspective. You asked a question a while ago in your blog if sites like yours are truly helpful, or detrimental, in the long run. I have to say, without sites like yours, it wouldn't have clicked that there was an actual explanation (D.I.E.T.) to what jump started such a rough period. I still struggle to get to the point where my body and food aren't daily worries, but I've learned to really listen to what I need to sustain myself. It sounds so elementary, but such an important reminder.

Unfortunately, I also truly believe in your title. Because of my own body insecurities, it's easier to recognize them in others. People who seem so comfortable in their own skin, as I'm sure I do to many, have their own quirks that betray an inner discomfort. My own roommate, curvy and beautiful, has always been uncomfortable in her own skin for as long as I've known her (6th grade) and will be the first to admit she doesn't like to be touched. She's recently dropped a few pounds and started dressing for her actual size, but said to me just yesterday how uncomfortable it makes her feel when someone compliments her. Even with our differing body-comfort zones, compliments pushed me to further my workout routine, and I feel they're doing the same subconsciously for her. I try to tell her how great she looks (she hasn't always gotten that) without harping on the subject. I've picked up a new tactic- with your help- 'refrain from comment.' For example, when out with friends or family, I try not to dwell on the 'indulgence' of the food, or reply if someone makes the token comment about how bad it is for them. I keep telling myself to just enjoy, it's OK. I'm trying to take the same course when comments are made about someone's figure, negative or positive- just refrain and let it play out as it may. It sure is tough to not shout at the TV when yet another spot on Jessica Simpson's (beautiful) body comes on!

I started this email simply to thank you for an informative and supportive blog; although I occasionally peruse sites like this, I'm never a commenter, so apologies for just letting loose in an email to you. I'd be surprised if you don't come across emails like this all the time! I could go on and on with my own thoughts and feelings, there are just endless things to say on the subject of body image in today's world.

Keep up the good work. . .

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rock, Paper, Denim

Now, I know we have bikini season to talk about. But, during our antebellum spring, let's reflect on the past couple of months. . . .

Right before the holidays, I saw a commercial (can't remember the product--not such great advertising!) that proclaimed: "Now's the time to find out who wins--you or your jeans?"

So, I pose the question to you: Who won? Personally, I'm taking the win because:

a) I have friends who are smaller than I, to whom I often gift clothing I've outgrown (in more ways than one).
b) I have a growing Goodwill stash.
c) My jeans, after all, are inanimate and I have a sharp pair of scissors and a compliant garbage can.

I'll add here, for lack of another venue in which to discuss this sentiment, that I'm deeply saddened by the passing of Natasha Richardson. What a wonderful actress, mother, and woman. . . News like this, for me, puts concerns like above in such startling perspective. I hope it does for you as well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Liz Funk, author of, Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls, and I recently had a chance to chat. I interviewed her about her recently published book, which describes the proliferation of overly-booked, overly-pressured, overly-perfect young women. . . you know, the kind of teenager who plays three sports, aces her classes, dates successfully, and has the perfect body?

Were/are you a "Supergirl?" Can you identify negative consequences associated with this phenomenon? See below for our Q & A:

Were you a Supergirl, and as a 20-year-old writer who just had her first book published, speaker, and college student—are you still a Supergirl?
Yes, I was a total Supergirl and my earlier years in college and now I’m a recovering Supergirl. I still have a lot of Supergirl behaviors (e.g., trying to work too hard, trying to please everyone, being obsessed with my appearance), but I think in becoming cognizant of why I act this way, I can make an effort to enjoy being myself and be less of a Supergirl.

I’m curious where you grew up and if you see regional/cultural differences in this phenomenon?
I grew up in upstate NY in a little town about 20 minutes west of Albany and it was suburban/rural, but it was still very much a pressure cooker for teenagers. In researching my book, I talked to young women from all over the country (women of various ages, races, socio-economic statuses) and it seems that being a Supergirl is a nationwide issue. As I was researching, I tried to draw some conclusions, like, “Is this more of a suburban thing, or an urban thing?” which helped me come to my eventual conclusion that the media definitely spurs Supergirl behavior, just because it’s the one thing that touches the lives of all young women no mater where they grew up or how much money they grew up with.

Is being a Supergirl actually incompatible w/happiness?
On some level it is, because so many of the Supergirls who strive to do 100% in every aspect of their lives are really trying to compensate for some sort of internal unhappiness. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a young woman who is disappointed when she gets an A- or comes in 2nd place who is also comfortable in her own skin. I think so often being Supergirl is actually a defense.

How do you see the idea of Supergirl playing into eating disorders?
There are so many intersections between Supergirls and eating disorders. I think the first thing is that being a Supergirl and suffering from an eating disorder are both about control. I think of all the girls in this country, Supergirls are the ones who feel most pushed toward attempting physical perfection, but because there’s no such thing as physical perfection, I don’t think they know when to stop (stopping to lose weight or developing moderation in their exercise regimen). They become so desperate in their striving for perfection, they lose this understanding of a healthy body type and a healthy lifestyle.

If we discourage women from accomplishing or excelling (if we accept sub-par jobs and relationships, isn’t this taking a step back with regard to feminism?)
I don’t think the goal is to achieve less, I think the goal is to achieve in a healthier way. We want women to be able to be high achieving and successful, and do it in a way that makes them happy. Tina Fey’s character is a great example on 30 Rock—if Liz Lemon could approach her work day a little more leisurely, I think it would be the perfect example of remedying the Supergirl lifestyle without feminism taking a hit.

What’s are some of your ideas about how to break this cycle? Do Supermoms raise Supergirls?
I think that the first step in breaking this cycle comes from inside. Girls need to realize that they have value for reasons outside of how they look and what they do. I think Supergirls need to take some time for themselves and get some hobbies, learn to be alone with their thoughts, and start learning to enjoy spending time alone! In fact, I think that’s a great step one: Supergirls should all take themselves out to lunch and see how much fun they can have doing something for themselves and spending time with themselves, and take it from there!

I think in terms of the moms, overachieving moms today do set an example for their daughters, so I think that today’s moms need to set some boundaries in terms of how much time they spend doing stuff for other people. But moms are also a huge ally for their daughters, and I think that there are some really crucial conversations that Supergirls and their Supermoms can have about confronting the pressures that society and women put on them.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Philosophy 101 (And a Little Bit of Country)

I've been taking a philosophy class and recently, we addressed the topic: "What are you?" I'll spare you the introspection (read: Googling) and let you know that, philosophically, there are three aspects to the self:


In class, the professor asked us to comment on these variables and an interesting discussion ensued. We spoke about which elements we know for sure exist, which tend to dominate our lives. I commented that women seem to be more identified with their bodies than men; in other words, a greater part of our self-definition arises from our bodies than it does for men.

I would have loved to have recorded the debate that followed--most women (one offered the prevalence of wealthy men with "arm candy/trophy wives" as proof) and some men agreed, as I provided socio-biological explanations for why a woman's appearance matters more, but a couple of men (including the instructor) seemed to be taken aback. I offered everything from evolutionary choices (as did an orthopod in the room--we scientists are so transparent) to the differential incidence of eating disorders by gender to prove my point.

As I'm writing this post, I'm thinking of country music (you made the same leap, too, huh?) A number of country music performers have recently crossed over into pop. If you haven't been following pop hits (or itunes favorites), some country artists have high-ranking singles on the charts. But, why is it that certain artists are able to cross over to a larger audience and others aren't? Is it strictly a function of talent?

My hypothesis is that it has to do with their marketability and, specifically, that female country artists are marketable if they happen to be young and pretty (think Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Kellie Pickler). How many unattractive female country artists have made the transition so seamlessly? How many men have made the switch? Top ranking Keith Urban's popularity seems largely derived from his marriage to an attractive female star.

Are women, in fact, more identified with their bodies (by others and themselves), or was I arguing an antiquated point?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Stacey's Secret

Have you seen Victoria Secret's new swimsuit collection? Or, rather, I should ask, have you seen their new swimsuit campaign? Here's a taste:

Apologies for the sub-par photography--yes, that's her foot next to her bikini bottom. This spread appears street side at their new flagship store. I have to confess, sometimes I lie on the beach like this myself. I find that not only does it attract more attention, but it also happens to be a great quadriceps stretch.