Re-up: The social implications of a cookie.

“Training the world” — my essay about little girls and body image — has kind of gone slow-mo viral since I posted it last month, first getting decent attention here, then getting picked up by xoJane, then suddenly getting *huge* attention here, then getting picked up by the Huffington Post, and then, just today, getting picked up by HuffPost Canada. I’m so pleased, because if ever there was a post that I would want to go viral, that’s the one — I believe that we do real damage to our girls when we fail to address the ways in which our social norms and mores encourage them to loathe and distrust the only body they will ever have, and we need to talk about that.

But I genuinely believe that we are doing no less damage to ourselves. And so, I decided to re-up the following (first posted this past summer). I think anyone who found this blog because of “Training the world” will find it of interest, too. Thank you so much for being here!

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chocolate chip cookieJust once, when I happen to be in a group of women, I’d like to have a cookie without having to consider the social implications of having a cookie.

This happened to me recently — I was at a little teacher-organized gathering of kids and parents, having a brief conversation with a small handful of women. One turned to the rest of us and said “I want a cookie. Does anyone else want a cookie?” and as one, the rest of us smiled and said no. The cookie-fetcher then said “Well, now I feel bad, I’ll be the only one taking a cookie!” and came back with an apple.

Now, I am a fan of apples and have nothing against them. Apples are a fine thing. And sometimes I genuinely do not want a cookie.

But I have no idea if I wanted a cookie in that moment or not. I just know that when I’m in a gathering of women (particularly if I don’t know them very well), I almost never reach for sweets. I am a woman of Joan-esque proportions, minus all the foundation garments, and I know that I live in a society that has a lot of opinions about women of my size and the consumption of baked goods.

I do not talk about it, will not bond (as so many of us are trained to do) over self-hatred, will not discuss anyone’s weight, exercise program, dress size, or shape (unless it’s to be conspicuously comfortable with the fact that I am large-bosomed). I know that sometimes these conversations can be perfectly healthy and self-affirming, but they too often are not, and I lack the skills to judge each and every conversation on the spot, so I participate in none.

But I am too good at hearing the whispers passing through people’s minds (or the whispers that I fear might be passing there, or the whispers of girls with whom I went to junior high, or the ones on TV) — and so while I will not engage in the body-shaming, neither will I engage in the cookie-eating.

Unless I do. Unless I make a conscience choice to make a political statement and have a cookie in front of God and everybody. Nearly as soon as the apple-bearing woman returned with her apple, I was sorry I hadn’t said some suburban-mom version of “Hellyeah I’ll have a motherfucking cookie!!” Because women need to see each other eating normally, enjoying their food, not weighing every bite. We model behavior for each other, we owe that to each other. I don’t know if I wanted a cookie, but I should have had one.

I always have one when there are kids around, especially if those kids are girls. If the kids are girls, I’ll have two cookies, and talk about how good they are, and counter any self-hating, food-limiting, body-slagging talk that may bubble up as quickly as I can. Because I’m the adult, and I need to model behavior for them, I owe that to them, to show them that women can eat normally, enjoy their food, not weigh every bite.

I don’t blame Women. And I certainly don’t blame the women I happened to be with today, or any women with whom I happen to find myself. I blame All Of Us. I blame society as individuals and society as a collective. I blame me, I blame the magazines at the grocery store, I blame 100-calorie packs and the corporate mind that conceived of them. I blame the air we breathe. I even kind of blame religion, because we have forever bought and sold a terrible, soul-killing notion that our bodies are bad, that they must be controlled, that not controlling our bodies in some vague, amorphous way (because we have to eat something, there’s no avoiding that, so constant vigilance is the only way) is a failure, a sin, something to be condemned, to be shunned, to be mocked, to be shamed. As if God did not know what He was doing when He created us. As if God did not make each and everyone of us to love and be loved, for who we are. For who and how He made us.

All of this, on every cookie (or piece of cake, or scoop of ice cream) that I eat in public. All of it.

Sometimes, I wish I could just eat a cookie.

Training the world – on little girls and body image.

I maintain something of a bi-cameral approach with regard to writing about my children: I write about them, but I don’t use their names (their last name is different to mine, which helps); I write about them, but I write only happy things, or uplifting things, or things that are far in the past. Nothing that would embarrass them, nothing that is truly personal and private. I owe them that, I think. They didn’t ask to be born to me.

Today I’m going to break down that wall, though, because I believe my own daughter’s well-being actually, in a very broad way, depends on it. If you know my girl, or if you ever meet her, I’m asking you here and now: Please don’t discuss the following with her. It would, genuinely, make her sad.

The girl.

The girl.

But how am I to remain silent, when she sits in the back of my car, tears streaming down her face and wondering, in a tiny and strangled voice, if anyone will ever love her?

The girl is tall, and broad, and strong, and round. She is 10, and as she has throughout her young life, she has a belly. It’s not small – it’s a real belly. The kind of belly that many young girls have until they reach puberty, and which is usually eclipsed by the appearance of breasts. As girls grow into women, our shapes change — but they don’t usually change entirely. Mine didn’t. If you were born big and soft (9 lbs 3 oz, and she was four weeks early), you’re never going to become anything much different, unless you literally do physical damage to yourself in the effort.

“Do you think I’ll ever be skinny?” she asked in that same car ride.

No, honey, no. I do not think you will ever be skinny. “Skinny” (like “fat”) has no real value, it tells us nothing about the worth or even the health of the person, it’s a descriptor. It’s like “tall” or “blue” or “left handed” – it describes something, it doesn’t tell you that thing’s worth. Or, worse yet, we’ve made “skinny” (and “fat”) into a weapon, a weapon we use to wound people.

These are almost exactly the words I used with her in the car, words very similar to words she’s heard her whole life — or, at least, since the first time she was called “fat” and understood it to be intended as a cruelty, when she was 4. When she was 9, she could already use the phrase “objectification of women” correctly.

And the other day, in that car, tears streaming down her face, she finally said “I know, but you’re training me. You’re not training the whole world.”

My daughter is exactly as God and her genes intended her to be: She is funny and lights up a room and won’t take no for an answer. She is very smart and loves being very smart and can sit in a corner and read for two hours at a stretch. She will spontaneously dance to just about anything, and will run around the playground with her friends all afternoon if time and homework allow. She is a person of healthy appetites, in all senses: She would like a bigger bite of the world, please, and also some more ice cream, while you’re up. She thoroughly enjoys her food, except when she doesn’t, at which point she can’t be bothered to have another bite. She knows that too much ice cream isn’t always good for her body, and she is learning that sometimes “no” is the best answer — but she’s always heard “no” from time to time, and always had that “no” acted upon. Her diet is healthy, and she knows that, too, and likes it. She is also, if I may, beautiful. Gorgeous, in fact, with milky-peachy skin and deep brown eyes and hair that falls in waves all around her beautiful smile.

But the girl lives in the world that her father and I cannot reach, she doesn’t live within our arms. She lives in a world where 10 year old girls are already so bone-deep aware of how we treat women who do not fit a certain, very narrow, paradigm that they worry they will never be loved. She worries — a lot — what strangers think of her when they see her from a distance; she worries that the people who know her are kind only because they know her.

She is 10. She is healthy. She is strong. She is wicked smart. And she sat in my car, weeping about her body.

There is only so much her father and I can do, only so much real science we can bring to bear on the lies and misapprehensions peddled by the diet industry and swallowed whole by those around us. There is only so much we can do about the fact that every adult woman she comes in contact with is steeped in the same lies and misapprehensions, the vast majority of them openly bemoaning their sacred bodies and bonding over self-loathing. “I’m getting fat!” one of the girl’s friends said at school the other day, a friend who is so slight she might blow away on the next strong wing.

There’s only so much I can do. It’s already in her. And even though I never say it out loud, it’s in me too. I hate it, but there it is, telling me how little I’m worth because I refuse to punish my only body for being something other than that which I am told it should be. I cannot tell you how much it hurts me, how furious it makes me, to know that this is what she feels and what she faces. I’m weeping as I type. And there’s almost nothing I can do. I cannot train the world.

But maybe, maybe – if we all work together, maybe if we’re kinder to ourselves and each other, more loving toward these fabulous machines that move us through our lives, less willing to accept shaming that cloaks itself as wisdom – maybe together, we adults can make the world in which our little girls are growing into wonderful women a better place. Maybe.

Please help me. We’re the adults. My daughter, and probably yours, needs our help.  They need our love.

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UPDATE: My Twitter friend Kris Lindbeck sent me the lovliest essay I may have ever read about human bodies — all of them. Please click through to read. “I’ll tell you what people look like, really: they look like flames. Or like the stars, on a clear night in the wilderness.”

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UPDATE 10/6/13: All of a sudden this post is getting a ton of love from Facebook, and I’m very grateful — and Facebook is not the easiest thing to search, so I honestly don’t have any idea why today, or what the source(s) is (are). If it’s you – thank you!

The social implications of a cookie.

chocolate chip cookieJust once, when I happen to be in a group of women, I’d like to have a cookie without having to consider the social implications of having a cookie.

This happened to me just now — I was at the park at a little teacher-organized end-of-year gathering of kids, having a brief conversation with a small handful of women. One turned to the rest of us and said “I want a cookie. Does anyone else want a cookie?” and as one, the rest of us smiled and said no. The cookie-fetcher then said “Well, now I feel bad, I’ll be the only one taking a cookie!” and came back with an apple.

Now, I am a fan of apples and have nothing against them. Apples are a fine thing. And sometime I genuinely do not want a cookie.

But I have no idea if I wanted a cookie in that moment or not. I just know that when I’m in a gathering of women (particularly if I don’t know them very well), I almost never reach for sweets. I am a woman of Joan-esque proportions, minus all the foundation garments, and I know that I live in a society that has a lot of opinions about women of my size and the consumption of baked goods.

I do not talk about it, will not bond (as so many of us are trained to do) over self-hatred, will not discuss anyone’s weight, exercise program, dress size, or shape (unless it’s to be conspicuously comfortable with the fact that I am large-bosomed). I know that sometimes these conversations can be perfectly healthy and self-affirming, but they too often are not, and I lack the skills to judge each and every conversation on the spot, so I participate in none.

But I am too good at hearing the whispers passing through people’s minds (or the whispers that I fear might be passing there, or the whispers of girls with whom I went to junior high, or the ones on TV) — and so while I will not engage in the body-shaming, neither will I engage in the cookie-eating.

Unless I do. Unless I make a conscience choice to make a political statement and have a cookie in front of God and everybody. Nearly as soon as the apple-bearing woman returned with her apple, I was sorry I hadn’t said some suburban-mom version of “Hell yeah I’ll have a motherfucking cookie!!” Because women need to see each other eating normally, enjoying their food, not weighing every bite. We model behavior for each other, we owe that to each other. I don’t know if I wanted a cookie, but I should have had one.

I always have one when there are kids around, especially if those kids are girls. If the kids are girls, I’ll have two cookies, and talk about how good they are, and counter any self-hating, food-limiting, body-slagging talk that may bubble up as quickly as I can. Because I’m the adult, and I need to model behavior for them, I owe that to them, to show them that women can eat normally, enjoy their food, not weigh every bite.

I don’t blame Women. And I certainly don’t blame the women I happened to be with today, or any women with whom I happen to find myself. I blame All Of Us. I blame society as individuals and society as a collective. I blame me, I blame the magazines at the grocery store, I blame 100-calorie packs and the corporate mind that conceived of them. I blame the air we breathe. I even kind of blame religion, because we have forever bought and sold a terrible, soul-killing notion that our bodies are bad, that they must be controlled, that not controlling our bodies in some vague, amorphous way (because we have to eat something, there’s no avoiding that, so constant vigilance is the only way) is a failure, a sin, something to be condemned, to be shunned, to be mocked, to be shamed. As if God did not know what He was doing when He created us. As if God did not make each and everyone of us to love and be loved, for who we are. For who and how He made us.

All of this, on every cookie (or piece of cake, or scoop of ice cream) that I eat in public. All of it.

Sometimes, I wish I could just eat a cookie.

Cyclical dieting as a form of bulimia; normal eating; & being so sick of it all.

Emily McCombs, blogger at xoJane and owner of a lovely first name, is not only a dang entertaining writer, but also a painfully honest one. Among the issues about which she is painfully honest is body image, specifically as regards her struggles in adulthood with what she terms “subclinical bulimia.”

There is, of course, a life-story behind McComb’s eating disorder issues, and it’s a well-written, even entertaining story, so I encourage you to read the whole thing, but there are two things that I want to get at specifically, things that I think touch on the lives of a lot of women, myself included.

Because a diet worked so well for me once, I have considered my compulsive eating the problem and adhering to a diet the solution. Not until now have I been emotionally able to see that my dieting is actually part of the binge cycle…. Throwing up is not the only bulimic behavior I engage in. My yo-yo dieting is just as much a part of the cycle as sticking my finger down my throat.

She goes on to reference The Rules of Normal Eating,

which identifies the four basic rules that “normal” eaters follow: 1. eating when hungry. 2. choosing satisfying foods. 3. eating with awareness and enjoyment and 4. stopping when satisfied. Is that definition as mind-blowing to you as it is to me? Do people actually live this way? Can I?

I wrote about the effort to determine what “normal eating” is very early on in this blog’s life (pivoting off a quote that began “Who started the lie, anyway, that women shouldn’t have an appetite?”), because it’s a concept with which I genuinely struggle — a struggle which is, in turn, a thing of which I am ashamed.

I’ve never had an eating disorder, nor have I ever had particularly disordered eating (there’s a difference — & according to one study, two-thirds of American women aged 25-45 have disordered eating). I’ve long recognized that life-long diets are a kind of ED, and I’ve neither dieted nor weighed myself for the better part of two decades (more, actually).

But I am not the size America wants me to be, and that dogs me.

I am (and a healthcare professional has actually confirmed this for me!) broad — my bone structure is literally wider than that of the average bear. I’m proportional, but I’m a bit wide.

I’m also big-busted, and as most naturally big-busted women will tell you, all that pillowy goodness tends to come with pillowy goodness elsewhere on the frame as well. I am, my children have told me, a delight to hug. My husband finds me beautiful and (though I feel shy saying it) even sexy. I still get looks, and the men doing the looking are still cute.

But I am not the size America wants me to be.

I am not now, nor will I ever be. I could, with some truly dedicated disordered eating, get smaller, and when my clothes get tight about the waist, I do consciously eat less until they no longer are. But as I don’t actually eat all that much, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. I’ll never be small.

So I attempt to accept this, as I have attempted to accept it since that day I stopped weighing myself in college (one exception: Prior to our nuptials, the husband and I put on a fair amount of happy fat. We both consciously dieted for the wedding). I talk a good game, because I’m a big believer in faking it until you make it, not to mention not adding to the dysfunction that swirls around us. I don’t bond over tales of self-loathing or food-shaming.

But I don’t accept my size. Not really. Not fully. I am aware of eyes on me (real or imagined, I couldn’t tell you) as I eat in public; I struggle to not be aware of them in private. I eat well, I eat what I want, I stop when I’m satisfied — but I have to tell myself, nearly every single time I put food in my mouth, that that’s all good and fine. That it’s ok to eat.

And that’s where my shame lies. I don’t want this albatross around my broad, pillowy neck for the rest of my life. I don’t want even one more synapse to go to those thoughts and those concerns. I have guitar lessons to take! Books to read! Ideas to have! Beautiful dresses to enjoy! Every self-doubting thought I have about food or my body takes time and energy away from all of those other things and I hate it.

I did recently come to a brand new idea, one that I’m able to access on most days: If I have to struggle, this is a worthy struggle to have. If I am to go to my grave having wasted time on food issues, let it be in the effort to support myself. Let it be in the effort to shout the voices down.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a kind of peace, and it’s the best I have for now. I’m holding firm to the hope that in fighting this fight, I’m helping my daughter forge better tools for herself.

On older women and body image.

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The other night I discovered the following on BuzzFeed: “Women Over 50 Plagued By Eating Disorders, Body-Image Issues.”

The hell you say!

Reports BuzzFeed:

Today’s dieting young women plagued with body-image concerns aren’t necessarily likely to grow out of them when they get a little older, have kids, retire — just you know, age — according to new research. A study from the International Journal of Eating Disorders shows that women over the age of 50 commonly struggle with body image and eating issues. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, led by Dr. Cynthia Bulik, found that 62 percent of 1,849 women aged 50 and older surveyed across the U.S. said their weight or shape had a negative impact on their lives.

Ok, I have a question: Why on earth would we be likely to “grow out” of our body image issues?

Women are told, our entire lives, that our greatest worth is measured in conventional attractiveness, and that furthermore, we are never attractive enough. We are told this in our movies and TV shows, in our supermarket check-out lines, in our social circles, in our jobs, and often in our families. We are told this by bloggers, by commenters, by Twitter, by Facebook, by complete strangers on the street. We are told this from the moment we are born (else why did people feel the need to assure me that my chubby girl baby would “thin out”?), and we are told this until the moment we die.

We are told this so often, and so convincingly, that we women punish ourselves with deprivation, torture ourselves with self-doubt, and sometimes spend our own money to cut out our own flesh. And then we bond over it all. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t suffer from a certain amount of body-image anxiety (or flat-out self-loathing) or hasn’t had to struggle on occasion to keep that anxiety/self-loathing at bay — and every single one of us talks about it (or is expected to).

One never just eats — one laughs about how much one is eating, or announces that one will have to not eat tomorrow to make up for it, or compares and contrasts the relative fat contents of Food A vs. Food B. One never just gets dressed — one has to consider what will be said about one’s muffin-top, or flabby arms, or cankles. One never just ebbs and flows with the years — one is expected to constantly strive for a physical ideal that is rooted in pre-pregnancy youth and which for many women isn’t even remotely possible (or healthy).

To think that we might lose these thoughts and behaviors as we age and get ever farther from that youthful mirage would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. There is health — there is a body functioning at or near its potential peak because it has been well-maintained (and its owner lucky) — and then there’s this destructive, obsessive bullshit.

The BuzzFeed post goes on to devote about a third of its text to the following:

The trend is concerning not only for women over 50 — who are assaulted daily with reminders of how bad it is to age like a normal person — but their kids. Research shows that moms who are unsatisfied with their bodies can easily pass those insecurities on to their daughters.

…A mother who expresses concern about her own not-thin-enough body — or openly admires a “neighbor with the long, thin legs,” for example — sends the message to her kids that physically looking a certain way is what’s valued and praise-worthy.

And you know what? I agree, and I am all for raising our daughters to value themselves in all of their many sizes and shapes — but fuck that.

Fuck the idea that women over the age of 50 cause troubles for others with the attitudes and social cues forced on them their entire lives by a society that devalues them daily — they are suffering themselves, and that matters.

The report to which the BuzzFeed piece refers finds that

[Of those surveyed] 62 percent said their weight or shape had a negative impact on their life, 79 percent said it affected their image of themselves and 64 percent said they thought about it daily…. In all, 66 percent didn’t like their overall appearance. Their dissatisfaction was highest with their stomach (84 percent) and shape (73 percent).

Sure we need to model good, healthy, self-affirming behavior for our daughters and the other girls in our lives — but we deserve lives that are free of this kind of collective body dysmorphia. We deserve lives full of joy and creativity and unabashed enjoyment of these wondrous machines in which we live.

Oh look – Time also wrote about the eating disorders study! And you’ll never guess what articles the piece directs interested readers to: “5 Tips to Overcome Emotional Eating,” “Why Sleep Deprivation Leads to Overeating,” and “How People-Pleasing May Lead to Overeating.”

:: headdesk ::

Things about me which please me (and even occasionally make me proud).

The other day I wrote about things I do of which I am ashamed.

This shame is based in my personal, and particular, experience with patriarchy and my understanding of feminism, and it’s real, but it’s dawned on me in the meantime that it might have been useful to note that I don’t exactly live my life soaked in shame or guilt. I have moments. The third and fourth things on the list plague me to a greater or lesser degree fairly regularly, but I don’t walk around in a morass of self-loathing. Mostly, on most days, I’m pretty ok with myself.

But if I think about it, expressing shame or guilt — while honest and I think even important (we can’t deal with something until we admit to ourselves that it’s a problem. Hello, daughter of the 12 Step Programs here!) — is hardly revolutionary. In fact, it’s kind of part-and-parcel of the Judeo-Christian (I cannot believe I just used that term) worldview, and — even more problematically — part-and-parcel of Western social norms and mores for women. We talk about what we’re doing wrong all the time, frankly.

What would be revolutionary, perhaps, would be to talk about what we do right.

This came to me yesterday after wandering around at Eat The Damn Cake, through the posts of ETDC blogger Kate & her guest blogger, Anna. Kate has a regular feature at the end of each post that she calls an “Unroast”; in each one, she expresses love for some part of her body or appearance. Recently this has included “Today I love the way I look in baggy shirts” and “Today I love my ankles. They’re an almost exact combination of my parents’ ankles,” both examples indicating a certain looseness and creativity to the idea which I love.

The attitude behind the Unroast (and, frankly, the attitude behind the blog’s name) leads me to visit Eat The Damn Cake frequently. I have even written in response to Kate’s work in the past, but yesterday, it was guest blogger Anna’s posts that really grabbed me.

Anna was veryvery pregnant as she wrote the posts in question, grappling with the reality of moving as a veryvery pregnant person through the world, and these are the two bits that made we want to go out in search of her to ask her to be my lawful wedded wife. The first is from We are already normal (a very pregnant post), the second from We owe it to little girls (emphasis Anna’s):

Women’s bodies. Want to know what normal is? Look around you. Working women. Mothers. Students. Friends. Teenagers. Grandmothers. We are normal already.

and:

Our attitudes influence more than just ourselves. If we’re going to change our body culture, we have to change our habits. Even those that are socially reinforced, even those that can be pleasant and bonding, as negative body talk so often can be.

And finally, we get to my point (which I swear, I have):

If I’m going to speak publicly about my feelings of shame, I should also choose to take the rather more revolutionary step of tooting my own horn. And thus, hereunder you will find a list of things about me in which I find pleasure, and even, occasionally, pride.

  1. I have genuinely taken on-board the notion that if an article of clothing doesn’t work on my body, the problem is not my body, but the article of clothing. This seems small at first glance, but I think it’s actually kind of big. That moment, that moment when you stand in front of a mirror trying to take some piece of clothing (that you have been assured is gorgeous and all-the-rage) and make it look “right” on your own body and it’s.just.not.working — that moment is a moment of such deep intimacy with ourselves, a moment in which it is perilously easy to further swallow the lie that all bodies must look like one kind of body in order to be worthy, a moment in which it is so easy to get angry with our very flesh — it took me more than 40 years, but I have finally reached the point that when I start to hear those voices, I tell them to shut the fuck up, and I mean it. And I’m proud of myself, because it wasn’t easy.
  2. I regularly contribute to the social dialogue about women’s rights, women’s bodies, and the fact that — given that we make up half the world — these are not “women’s issues” but human issues. In fact, there are days when I act like this is a job. I’m not particularly aggressive in my approach (often leading with versions of “I see why you’re saying that, but…”), but I am dogged. I write, I tweet, I confront, I question. I am part of the process by which society is undoing its assumptions about rape, women’s autonomy, our reproductive rights, and the essential human right of all people to make their own choices and live their lives precisely as who they are.
  3. I am raising my children to be aware, thinking feminists. Our family talks all the time — at the dinner table, in the car, while watching TV — about how the world treats people, what society’s expectations are, and whether or not those expectations are fair or just or even reflective of the reality that we see around us — and the husband and I see the fruits of this labor all the time.For instance #1: The girl recently complained that a very cool construction toy she’d gotten for her 8th birthday had no pictures of girls on the box, and when she found one on the instructions, she noted, with sarcasm positively dripping from her voice, that the model had built a princess crown “because all girls ever do are princess things.” For instance #2: The boy prepared this speechin honor of Martin Luther King last year for school (when he was all of 11), writing: “I have a dream that one day no one in this world will be able to push you down, regardless of any stereotypes. I have a dream that in all 50 states Muslim Boys and Muslim Girls and homosexual boys and homosexual girls and rich boys and rich girls and poor boys and poor girls and all of the boys and girls of America will join together and nothing in the world will be able to stop them.”It matters that our girls and boys grow up to be feminist adults, but it also matters that they be feminist children. We need only look at schoolyard bullies to see the impact that children can have on people’s lives — loving, caring, egalitarian-minded children can help heal the world. And of course as their parents, it matters very deeply to us that the boy and the girl gain the tools they’ll need to shake off the world’s damaging messages. I am proud of the way that I am raising my children.
  4. And finally, in the spirit of the Unroast: I love my hair. It’s long, of a vaguely once-was-blonde-now-is-brown color, streaked with bits of silver here and there and now that I’ve stopped using shampoos with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate has returned to the kind of softness and luster it had for almost all my life. It feels like a crown on my head, particularly when I wear it loose, and I love the way that makes me feel.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles and Feministe.

Revisiting Demi Lovato, misogyny, and my daughter’s stomach bug.

Update: This post is one of my most consistently visited.

If you’re here because you’re dealing with cutting, an eating disorder, or bi-polar (any/all) click here for a list of phone numbers and Web resources, and click here to read Ms. Lovato’s comments on her post-rehab experiences and the documentary she’s made.

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In November 2010, singer/actor Demi Lovato began a three-month stint in rehab for what was termed “emotional and physical issues” — it was widely speculated that these issues included an eating disorder and self-injury (cutting). In the meantime, Lovato has completed rehab, and is going public this week with her story. The cutting has been confirmed, as has the eating disorder, as well as depression and bi-polar disorder — in short, this very, very young person has been struggling for years with some truly horrifying demons.

Sometimes a complete stranger’s tale resonates particularly powerfully for me, and Lovato’s was one of those tales. I wrote about it when the story first broke, and have decided to re-up the post, because it touches on some issues that I feel to be far more important than we like to admit — in no small part because these issues are associated with women, and we still don’t value women very much.

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The girl — my sweet, funny, round-cheeked and whip-smart little girl — is home sick today, the poor mite, throwing up and congested at the same time. A horrible thing, if you ask me!

It might not be every worried mom whose daughter’s illness makes her think of our shared social ills, but God help the girl, I’m the mom she got. So, given where my thoughts have been lately, in cleaning up after one particularly unpleasant bout of whatever-the-hell she has, I flashed pretty easily on how often women (myself included) respond to bad digestive troubles with: “Maybe I’ll lose weight!”. (It’s almost a reflex at this point. I push against the self-hatred I see preached all around me, and yet when the food comes back up, it’s very hard not to think: “Score!”).

These thoughts then led easily to thoughts of the increasingly rail-thin girls who appear on my little girl’s TV screen, which led in turn to one who has lately been on my mind more than might seem to make sense: Demi Lovato.

Demi Lovato, 18 year old star of Camp Rock, Camp Rock 2, and Sonny with a Chance (all Disney productions), recently entered treatment for what are said to be “emotional and physical issues” (is there really any other kind of “treatment”…?). She’s rumored to have an eating disorder, and she’s rumored to cut. I’ve read both rumors in a few places, and I’ve seen pictures of scars on the inside of her arm, and People quotes “a source close to Lovato’s family” who says the same thing — and when it’s People doing the quoting, it may well be something that’s none of our business, but it’s likely a reliable source.

But of course, rumors, pictures, and “sources” all add up to me knowing exactly nothing, other than that this apparently picture-perfect young lady has had to seek help. Indeed: That a young lady whose entire future rests on the image she presents to the world has reached the point wherein her image is less important than that she get help — a fact which suggests to me that however her pain has chosen to express itself, she’s been struggling with it for some time. One thing I do know about people who go into any kind of rehab: They generally get there after protean efforts to to hide their struggles have dramatically failed.

And truth be told, this is as true for Charlie Sheen as it is for Demi Lovato (anyone who thinks that Charlie Sheen is enjoying his crazy-times life has never spent any time with an addict) — but there is something particularly heartbreaking to me about the Demi Lovato case.

Maybe because I have a little girl, and she will be Ms. Lovato’s age before I can blink. Maybe because I believe that our society, and our continuing failure to grapple honestly with our disregard for women and girls, as well our relentless drive to convince them/us to adapt to an ever-shrinking ideal of female beauty, makes us complicit every time a woman or girl hurts her body in response to psychic pain. Maybe because I remember being 18.

I hope that Demi Lovato is getting the kind of care she needs right now, the kind that will allow her to find a way to health and joy. I can’t help but think of the fact that she, too, was once a round-cheeked little girl, and I find I want to tuck her into the couch with my own girl, and feed them both soup.

But I suspect that giving soup to one suffering young lady will solve neither her problem, nor the larger, shared problems that society is still not willing to admit to. When we treat all women as less-than, when we tell women and girls that they are only valuable when they are beautiful, and that they are only beautiful when they have the build and physical fortitude of a match-stick (with breasts) — women and girls are hurt.

Does misogyny explain or define eating disorders and self-injury? No (not least because men and boys suffer from these issues, too). But does misogyny play a part? Certainly. And while I can’t do anything about the brain chemistry of anyone else, I can surely play a role in trying to inch my society closer, closer, closer, to the day when beautiful, talented young women — and their Plain Jane Doe sisters — do not feel a need to punish themselves for failing to meet a set of goals that are as ill-defined as they are impossible to achieve.

The day when women, of any stripe, description, or age, will never think “maybe I’ll lose weight!” when they catch a stomach bug.

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I’ve almost never talked/written about the phenomenon of cutting, because I’ve never had any personal exposure to it and feel I’m out of my depth.

Having said that, some lovely people on the internet have helped me to understand a bit better (such as the crucial fact that whatever we may feel about emo culture, the “emo kids cut!” meme is not true, and never funny), and I recently picked up a excellent book called Cut, because I saw my 11 year old boy reading it.

Intended for a young adult audience, I found Cut gripping, touching, and (I think) very honest (with the understanding that one novel cannot possibly tell the whole story). I’m glad my son read it, and I would recommend it to anyone who feels they would be served by learning more about self-injury (of course, if you’re in SI recovery, bear in mind that it may be triggering).

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.