Saturday, December 29, 2007

The portable Love-Your-Body Pledge

Thanks to my pal Mary Ketarkus Brown for making the I Love My Body! pledge pretty and portable. Use it as a bookmark, tape it to the inside of your cabinet door or mirror, hand it out on street corners. Say it out loud to yourself once a day. Try to mean it.

Then spread the word.

Friday, December 28, 2007

In loco parentis

Colleges should stand in loco parentis to their students, but when it comes to eating disorders and psychiatric illnesses, they rarely do.

So three cheers for this Cornell University custodian, who went above and beyond the call of duty to get help when she suspected that a student had bulimia.

We've got a long way to go, though. What if the student had refused treatment? Would the college call her parents? Probably not in this current privacy-oriented climate.

Well, it's a start.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


is what this is. Truly. I cannot speak of it. Children being harmed, mutilated, possibly killed, all because they're considered overweight. As one of the so-called surgeons involved says, “I am very pleased that youngsters will soon be offered gastric banding. Of course this will only be in extreme cases when everything has been tried and the child just cannot lose weight...."

And why exactly does a child need to lose weight so badly that s/he must be mutilated? Where does the urgency come from, the pressing need? And just how in the world can a child give informed consent for such an operation?

I don't know which is more sickening, the fat hatred that inspires such vile acts or the profit motive that no doubt encourages these surgeries. Or the thought that someday parents who refuse such surgeries on behalf of their children may be censured or have their children removed from their care.

Where are the yellow stars?

I'm going to throw up now.

Thanks to Sandy Szwarc for posting on this. I think. I'll be having nightmares. . . .

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Meaning and metaphor

Laura Collins over at Eating With Your Anorexic posted an interesting entry today, on a topic that's close to both my heart and my obsessions. Writing about our tendency to ascribe meaning to experience after the fact, she points out some of the "meanings" that have been ascribed to eating disorders over the centuries, from piety to family pathology to cultural norms around thinness. Her point is that eating disorders neither represent nor are caused by any of these hindsight insights, and simply are biological diseases.

It's a point I can agree with. Only I find that I keep wanting to add, "But there's more!"

As a poet and a journalist, I know both sides of the dichotomy. I've written here about growing up with panic disorder, and have alluded to the levels of meaning I assigned to my anxiety over the years. I've been through more than my share of therapy for anxiety, and have often gained insight from dreams, journaling, and exploring the metaphors and allusions that come with this disorder. Writing for me became a redemptive act very early on. Even in my teens I was aware that I wanted to make meaning out of suffering. If an important poem grew out of many nights of insomnia and philosophy, existential terror and affliction, well, maybe it was all worth it. And if not, I'd still created something beautiful—or at least meaningful—out of my pain. I'd made something out of, well, not nothing, but nothing useful.

The journalist part of me understands the concepts of neurotransmitters, genetics, and brain chemistry. I've had ample evidence of my panic disorder as a biological disease, often triggered by hormonal shifts and other physiological upheavals.

But. Still. I don't think that makes the poems, the metaphors, or the insights less important or meaningful. In fact they are deeply meaningful to me and, I hope, to others.

But. Still. Years of insight-based therapy have not changed the panic attacks or anxiety in any appreciable way.

So what does it all mean? Is retrospective insight always a chimera? Should we discount it altogether and stick to the facts, ma'am, just the facts?

I think when it comes to treatments for eating disorders and other psychiatric illnesses, the answer is yes. If I dream, as I once did, that my grandmother is trying to pierce my ears with a blunt knitting needle, and causing a lot of pain in the process, I don't believe this is a clue to the roots of my panic attacks.

But I'd hate to give up the relentless and quintessentially human quest for meaning and metaphor. That's the fertile terrain of all art and much spiritual and emotional growth.

All of which is a very long-winded way to say that I think what's needed here is a separation of church and state. When it comes to causes and treatments of eating disorders and other illnesses, I'm with the scientists; give me DNA and anatomy and chemistry. But when it comes to being alive and human, I need meaning and mystery and the indirect but often achingly apt language of symbol and metaphor. We need it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

And another Leaden Fork award goes to

all the folks involved with this incredibly tasteless book.

How to Get Fat is one of a series of so-called "self hurt" books. We know they're supposed to be funny because of the Dick-and-Jane-style illustrations. Other titles in the series include How to Get Into Debt, How to Drive Like a Maniac, and How to Traumatize Your Children. Now there's a knee-slapper. They're all published by an outfit called Knock Knock, which describes itself this way:

We are Knock Knock, a semi-spanking-new design company with aspirations to greatness. We concoct, manufacture, and distribute witty objects of cosmopolitan panache. . . . Our customers comprise the impish, the dapper, the droll, the young-at-heart—those who feel misunderstood by Santa-inflected wrapping paper and maudlin gilded greeting-card sentiments that rhyme. . . . Knock Knock seeks to integrate art and commerce—creating original, authentic, noncynical products that support themselves in the marketplace so that we don’t have to deal with “clients.”. . . Rather than a product category, material, or target market, Knock Knock’s unifying force is a sensibility. Also, we read a lot.

I'm all for poking fun at ourselves, but this one just doesn't seem funny. The humor here derives from the usual assumption that being thin is a choice and that any idiot would certainly choose it. It's really nothing more than a po-mo diet book.

Should you feel like weighing in on this book, you can contact the publisher at or call (800) 656-5662.