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.

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.

“If you think fat people have no self-discipline…”

“…consider the fact that they haven’t killed you yet.” – Robin Abrahams, author of the Miss Conduct advice blog at the Boston Globe.

Robin Abrahams also says:

I’ve noticed that whenever I suggest treating fat people with courtesy, I get criticism for it–even hate mail. (The other two groups that this is true of are smokers and Muslims.) People really, truly believe that it is not only acceptable, but right to treat fat people with disdain…. I cannot fathom what it must be like to have others take it upon themselves to hate my body for me.

I think I like Robin Abrahams.

Oldie-but-goodie: On ruining my children’s summer.

I’m doing some serious thinking about my place in the blogosphere, but in the meantime I’ll be running the occasional oldie-but-goodie —
because some posts deserve another moment in the sun!

*****

My kids go to this insanely awesome camp*. They come home dirty and tired, telling god-awful jokes and roping me into games I’ve never heard of, telling tales of kindness (“I got Camper of the Day! Because I helped the little kids!”) and singing really annoying songs, like for instance, “This Is A Song That Gets On Everybody’s Nerves.” Summer camp, just as God intended!

But, as is often the case in human endeavor (I don’t know if you’ve noticed), the occasional imperfection slips through. One song that came home really bugged me — that is, not in the way it was meant to.

To the tune of Ironman: “I’m the ice cream man/ running over fat kids in my van/ when I ring my bell/ all the little kiddies run like hell/-icopters/ but they won’t get far/ cause I have a sniper in my car/ when I shoot them down/ a hundred days later/ their blood turns brown/ then I start again/ because/ I’m the ice cream man…”. Etc.

Can you pick out the one word that resulted in a lecture about social justice?

Nope. No, not that one either. “Sniper”? Well, good guess, given that we’re a gun-free house, but: Nope.

“Fat.” The word “fat.”

I don’t know what the word “fat” means anymore, because for the most part, we tend to apply it to anyone over a randomly arrived at size that a rough majority of society has determined is “best.” Women use it as a weapon against ourselves, whether we’re a size 2 or 3X, and entire wings of the advertising industry are predicated on our fear of it. I know that some people, in consultation with health care professionals (emphasis on the word “professionals,” as opposed to random passers-by with a set of eyes), can determine that they are objectively obese, and need help in order to achieve a healthy weight, but I’m not sure we’re talking about anything objective when we haul out the word “fat.”

We do, however, use the word “fat,” or the suggestion of it, as a tool of comedy. Because, see, “fat kids” are funny! And running after the ice-cream van, in that completely uncontrolled mania that fat people display toward food? Hee-sterical!!

It matters not that neither of these images has anything to do with reality. There’s nothing objectively funny about size, and saying that one size is funny and worthy of finger-pointing tends to, oh I don’t know, diminish the humanity of those who are of that size, suspect themselves to be of that size, are accused of being that size, or – you get my point.

Then there’s the fact that the so-called “fat” don’t necessarily eat any more or less — or have any greater or lesser tendency to run down the ice cream van — than anyone else. Some people of a socially-acceptable size are chow-hounds and wish they could gain weight, and some achieve that socially-acceptable size through a punishing program of self-denial. As my husband pointed out when he chimed in on the lecture, to a very large extent, size is a lot like height: It’s in your genes.

And finally, the underlying idea of fat humor (one of the very few remaining ways in which Americans allow ourselves to make fun of a group of people for being who they are) is the sense that the “fat” are somehow less worthy than the not-fat. That it’s ok to laugh at a fat kid, because all he really wants is ice-cream, and he doesn’t count for much, anyway. I have a theory that this may be because Western society is so thoroughly soaked in Christian notions of shame and guilt that even though many of us no longer subscribe to any religious creed, we still see self-indulgence as a sign of moral weakness — and surely people are “fat” because they are gluttons, and thus, morally inferior. It’s a theory, anyway.

So there I am, telling my poor kids, who were just singing a silly song (and hey, kudos on teaching them the tune to Ironman!) that “fat” is not funny; that if you feel yourself to be fat, are frequently told that you’re fat, or are in fact bigger than the average bear, and you hear that song, it will certainly cut you to the quick; that the notion of unrestrained fat people is wrong; and that FURTHERMORE, human value should not be assigned according to size (and then dad added genetics. Oh, it’s a barrel of fun by us!)

Look, honestly, I get this kind of song. Kids need to mess around with notions of death and horror, kids are amused by stuff that adults have gotten over, kids need to walk on the very edge of respectability in order to find just where the line is. I get it!

But you know, and I know, that there are a million-zillion kids everywhere, learning to hate themselves a little more every day, because they don’t conform to some amorphous and ill-conceived notion of a “right” size, and shit like this DOESN’T HELP.

So while I surely did not take it upon myself to talk to the wonderful folks at the near-perfect camp about one word in one song (I promise), I did talk to my kids, to help them hear their words’  impact, and try to see the world around them a little more clearly.

Honestly, couldn’t the ice-cream man have run over “little babies,” or “old people”? Dark humor, people, it’s what all the cool kids do!

*6/8/11 update: The boy has since graduated from this particular camp and won’t be going this year, but the girl starts on Monday! It’s all kinds of awesome.