Saturday, July 07, 2007

Take the love-your-body pledge

The previous post, and some of the comments on it, got me thinking hard about how to begin to change the culture around fat and how we perceive it.

I asked myself: What's the one thing I wish I could change around this issue? The answer: I wish I could change the way girls and women talk to themselves and others about their bodies.

I've posted about this before. And I've written about it in this article. Now it's time to do something about it.

So I have this crazy idea: What if we could disseminate a kind of pledge that young girls and women would sign, promising not to trash-talk about their bodies? Something like this:

I, __________________, pledge to speak kindly about my body.

I promise not to talk about how fat my thighs or stomach or butt are, or about how I really have to lose 5 or 15 or 50 pounds. I promise not to call myself a fat pig, gross, or any other self-loathing, trash-talking phrase.

I vow to be kind to myself and my body. I will learn to be grateful for its strength and attractiveness, and be compassionate toward its failings.

I will remind myself that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and that no matter what shape and size my body is, it’s worthy of kindness, compassion, and love.

Then what if we got some of their favorite role models to sign, and stand up and say why it's important? Folks like, I don't know, Sheryl Crow and Jennifer Hudson and Mia Hamm? Would you sign it?

See, I think sometimes if you change the story you tell yourself about something, your feelings follow along. So maybe if we change the words we use to talk about our bodies, our feelings about them will follow along too.

And then maybe kids like the 12-year-old in my previous post won't feel so anxious and conflicted about what they eat and how they look. And maybe some of the kids who are genetically predisposed to eating disorders won't develop them.

Maybe it's naive. Or maybe it's a good idea. What do you think?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Overheard at the lunch table

Recently I had occasion to take my kids on an all-day excursion, to which they were allowed to each invite a friend. As we cruised the lunch joint we'd chosen, the 12-year-old friend seemed, well, anxious about what to choose. She wanted nachos, she said, but that wasn't healthy. (Sound familiar, anyone?) Her parents, she explained, have a rule about eating fruits and vegetables at every meal. She finally settled on nachos and a container of cut-up fruit. "My father says I don't eat enough for a girl my age," she commented. Gee, I wonder why; could she be learning from them to be afraid of food? If she has the genetic loading for an eating disorder, she's in big trouble.

As we ate, the conversation turned to a new movie, Ratatouille. This girl had seen it. "I really liked it," she reported, "except for all those rats who were so fat!" Then she went on: "It's so disgusting! They had all these bulges of so much fat!"

I was fairly stunned, but only because she was articulating what I know so many people think. I didn't know what to say, honestly, and what came to mind wasn't great: "In our family we don't feel fat is bad. People come in all shapes and sizes."

"But all they have to do is eat less and eat healthy and they wouldn't be fat!" she cried. Out of the mouths of babes, huh? "That's not actually true," I said, and then changed the subject, feeling like a coward. But I really didn't feel like taking it on, especially since I could see she was just parroting what she'd heard at home.

Later in the day, everyone else got ice cream, and so, I was happy to see, did she. The fruit went home unopened. For what it's worth.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Seeking adults with anorexia for interview

I'm working on a magazine feature for HEALTH magazine about adults with anorexia and am looking for women in their 30s and 40s who would be interested in being interviewed. The original scope of this project was on people who developed anorexia as adults, but it's now changed to women who are still suffering from anorexia as adults, no matter when they developed it.

If you fit the criteria and you've already talked to me, please get in touch again--I lost my records in a computer crash.

If you're willing to talk by phone, please email me off list. I promise it's a sensitively written article, the purpose of which is to help educate mainstream readers about anorexia. God knows they need it!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Anorexia on NPR

A friend called over the weekend to say that she'd been listening to this interview with the author of Peony in Love when she heard interviewer Liane Hansen make a comment about anorexia that made her blood boil. The author was describing lovesick young girls in 17th-century China. Hansen's comment, which comes about 4.15 minutes into the interview:

"It is interesting, the lovesick young ladies that are affected by the opera, what happens to them in their lovesickness is they starve themselves. And that's so much like anorexia, where you have young women today, and young men, starving themselves because that is the only way that they have some control over their own body."

Dear Liane Hansen, you may be an expert on so many things, as your NPR bio indicates, but anorexia is not one of them. Your throwaway comment about anorexia was made out of ignorance rather than malice, I'm sure. But ignorant it was.

Most researchers today believe that anorexia is a biologically based brain disorder. It's not "about" control. It's not "about" bad parenting, any more than autism or schizophrenia are. In fact, it's not "about" anything at all except having the bad luck to be genetically predisposed and to live in a culture full of triggers.

You have a lot of influence, Liane Hansen. I hope you will take this opportunity to educate yourself about anorexia. This website and this website would be great places to start. Then give me a call--I'd love to talk.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

PETA's fat-hating frenzy

The folks over at PETA have a gripe with filmmaker Michael Moore: they want him to make a documentary about animal rights.

That's cool. But the way they go about airing their gripe--very uncool.

The president of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, wrote an open letter to Moore last week, which was publicized on PETA's blog. In it, Newkirk urges Moore to go vegetarian:

"Although we think that your film could actually help reform America’s sorely inadequate health care system, there’s an elephant in the room, and it is you. With all due respect, no one can help but notice that a weighty health issue is affecting you personally. We’d like to help you fix that. Going vegetarian is an easy and life-saving step that people of all economic backgrounds can take in order to become less reliant on the government’s shoddy healthcare system, and it’s something that you and all Americans can benefit from personally.”

PETA's blog goes on to say, "The idea is that if people didn't make themselves unhealthy in the first place by eating meat products that are known to cause heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes, the situation would easier for everyone. As Ingrid puts it, 'Yes, America’s health care system needs to be fixed, but personal responsibility is a big part of why people look and feel as ill as they do.'"

Take that, Michael Moore! It's YOUR fault if you get sick—and so is the whole crappy health care system in America!

Hoo-wee! It's great to feel powerful, isn't it?

Note to Ingrid Newkirk: Go have a doughnut or something.