Diets don’t work. I’m Living Proof.

I'm in gray behind the adorable white bunny. I thought I was so fat. Ridiculous.

I’m in gray behind the adorable white bunny. I thought I was so fat. Ridiculous.

We often hear people say that diets don’t work, and there are a lot of articles and research out there that explain why this is true, for example this, this, and this. And yet, so many people continue to believe that if you have a fat body, then you can make ‘choices’ which will result in you having a body that is less fat. In other words, despite the research, we continue to believe that diets do work. I am hear to tell you otherwise, but not in some scientific way. I’m here to tell you that diets didn’t work for me. And I had every opportunity…

I am lucky enough to have been born to a loving upper middle class family. They are amazing.  And because they loved me they spared no expense when it came to trying to help me get thin. I could attend any weight-loss program or participate in any exercise regime.  The culture taught my family that thin was necessary for happiness and success so they genuinely believed that weightloss was the best possible option and they supported any and all attempts I made to lose weight. In response, I spent the first 30+ years of my life trying not to be fat.

When I was six my mother took me to the diet center. I remember sitting in the waiting room. I remember the fabric on the chairs. It was maroon, but not much else. I remember eating rice cakes. I can’t tell you if I lost weight, I don’t remember. I do remember wanting to lose weight and understanding that my mother brought me to the diet center because they could “help” me.

a thin year

A thin year – but not thin enough. I was drinking only liquids and eating meal replacement bars.

Sometime around 10 I went to fat camp. At camp they provided us with portioned meals and we exercised at least six hours a day. During the summer three girls tried to commit suicide. I know that sounds outrageous but it’s true. I don’t know for sure why these girls tried to take their lives but I remember the communal feelings of desperation. I was very popular at camp because when you removed the stigma of fatness – by creating an all fat environment – people who are funny, smart and savvy can shine. I remember the pictures from the end of the summer – a thin me in a green striped top – I remember these pictures  because this is one on the first times I remember feeling adorable in photos.

When I was 12 I went to another weight-loss center called 40 Carrots.  Again, I went with my mom, who has always been thin – by anyone’s standard – but she has also always dieted. I remember standing in the kitchen with her weighing out 4oz of chicken, seasoning it with vinegar, dijon mustard and pepper, chopping carrots and pouring water. I remember being hungry. I also remember losing like 20lbs. I got new clothes and felt beautiful. I remember walking into French class and having a boy I’d know since kindergarten asking me when I’d changed so much.

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It was a beautiful day – I adore my husband.

When I was 14, I went to Jenny Craig. I lost 20lbs eating food made by nestle that quite literally has no nutritional value. I remember daydreaming about getting to the Jenny Craig “maintenance program,”  where I would learn to stay thin. Instead, I gained the 20lbs  I lost plus 10 more.

During my later high school years, I tried weight watchers, slim fast, atkins, nutrisystem and plain old starvation. I always lost weight and I always gained more than I lost.

I broke up with my high school boyfriend in my freshman year of college and got thin again – this time I think it was 45lbs. I don’t remember a particular program, but I remember buying a skin tight brightly colored paisley dress and wearing it so he would see what he was missing. I was fat again by sophomore year.

I was  happy in college – I had great friends. But I still felt body conscious and I weighed 200lbs for the first time. For graduation I asked my parents to send me to Structure House – which is like fat camp for grown ups. At Structure House I lost 50 lbs.  I gained it back .

In grad school I watch a newscast about some soap opera star who lost weight on a liquid diet – Optifast. I lost 60lbs doing this – three times –  between the ages of 23 and 30.

At 30 I followed a program called Dr. Bernstein and worked out like crazy to get ready for my wedding. When I walked down the aisle I weighed 172 pounds. I look thin in the pictures but I had wanted thinner. I wasted time on my wedding day thinking about how I could have looked prettier.

Do you see a pattern? It’s not like I wasn’t committed.

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We are so cool.

When I think about my childhood, I remember crying a lot about my body. I remember feeling like a failure and not understanding why I wasn’t thin like my friends. I would have given anything to be thin, and I tried everything to be thin. I’m not going to lie to you. I have always loved food, but honestly I wanted thin way more than I ever wanted food. Each time I was thinner I loved being thinner, and I desperately wanted to stay thinner but as soon as I stopped starving and started eating normally I gained the weight back. Thin was/is not in the cards for me.

Today, I work out regularly and eat healthy but I don’t lose weight. At least I think I don’t lose weight because at this point in my life I never get on a scale and my clothes seem to fit.   I genuinely believe that constant  dieting made me fatter. I think that if I had accepted my body rather than diet I might have been a bit bigger than others but I never would have been as big as I am now. Diets failed me. They haunted me – they filled my life with failure because no matter how many times I dieted, I never stayed thin.

People say things like, “It’s not about dieting – It’s a lifestyle change.” Well, I’ve made a lifestyle change. I’ve decided not to diet because diets don’t work.

Plus, I’m fabulous – just the way I am.

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OMG. It’s not about JLAW. It’s about Genuine Body Acceptance.

love+the+word+fatAs some of you are aware I have written a petition on change.org: Kelloggs, Tyra Banks and Jennifer Lawrence – Stop Shaming Fatness But Continue to Support Actions Against Body Hatred

Other bloggers out there are addressing this too, including The Militant Baker, Jenny Trout and Fat Body Politics.

And much to my surprise – some people just don’t get it. So I’m writing this post to be clear.

To clarify, I like JLAW and I think she’s a definite supporter of people accepting their bodies but she is still perpetuating fat shame. When she said we should “outlaw” the word fat – I don’t think she knew what she was saying. I think she was talking about how people who are not fat get called fat, or call themselves fat.

And yes, it’s ridiculous to call thin girls fat because they’re not. And when some one does call someone thin “fat,” they are trying to insult thin people – by saying they are like me, fat. This is the same idea as the boy on the playground getting called a pussy – he’s weak, badly performing masculinity – and therefore he’s a pussy, a vagina, a woman – the insult is that he is less than a man, a woman – this is clear sexism. When some one calls you fat they they are shaming your body by calling it a less acceptable body – a fat one – this is body prejudice.

“Outlawing” the use of the word fat doesn’t encourage those of us who are fat to accept our bodies. If I am fat am I also worth outlawing? And really, the fear of fat – i.e. the idea that fat is this horrible thing to be avoided – doesn’t help others reach a place of body acceptance.  JLaw is most often acknowledging her body as healthy – and telling us that her body shouldn’t be condemned – and it shouldn’t, but neither should mine. My body is awesome and FAT. You can’t “outlaw” the use of the word fat and not at the same time underscore the idea that being fat is a bad thing, a thing I should be ashamed of.

To be clear I understand that people feel bad when they are called fat. This is because fat is a word we use to shame people. But outlawing the use of the word on TV doesn’t stop that – it affirms it. It literally takes it to the extreme telling people that calling some one fat is such a horrendous insult that we can’t bear to hear it in the media – you can’t get rid of the word without dissing the people who are actually fat.

We feel bad when people call us fat because we think that being fat is unacceptable and because we have been shamed. This is what we have to work on – normalizing the idea that there are fat bodies and there always will be and that’s okay. One of the ways that we can work on this is to recognize that Fat is just a description.

Fat, like short, tall, blue eyed etc. is a descriptive word which has been taken out of context and made an insult – much like the negative use of the word “gay” – to mean uncool.  Clearly, we should stop using the word as an insult – but we can still call gay people gay and fat people are fat because that’s what they are.

Genuine body positivity would mean that even if someone was fat, they wouldn’t have to feel body shame. I believe that we need to raise awareness – shift our perspective and create a world that accepts all people. Currently, in our culture it is perfectly acceptable for people to be cruel to fatness and fat people. It reminds me of Peggy Macintosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html). We live blindly in privilege until we open our eyes and become aware of the prejudice and shame all around us.

In reality, my petition and the blog posts you’re all seeing aren’t about JLAW – she is just a catalyst for a much larger issue – recognizing that “body acceptance” and fat acceptance are not always synonymous and they should be.

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Don Jon: Legit critique of Porn and Rom-Coms

SPOILER ALERT:

MV5BMTQxNTc3NDM2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQ5NTQ3OQ@@._V1._CR28,28.649993896484375,1271,1991.0000305175781._SX640_SY987_So, I went to see Don Jon, Joesph Gordon Levitt’s new film.  (Literally.  He wrote, directed and starred in the damn thing.)  The film is centered on the main character, Jon’s (Levitt) growth from a Jersey-shore-esq, macho, porn-addicted, women-objectifying goof into a more enlightened and fulfilled man, who values genuine connection based on the reality of individuals.

Jon, who spends most of his time acquiring notches on belt, cleaning, working out and masturbating to internet porn, begins to change by falling for Barbara (Scarlet Johansson). Basically, Jon’s porn addiction has created a monster – a man who functions as one in a constant search for female perfection, with perfection defined according to a pornographic beauty ideal. Notably, the film makes it clear that this pornographic ideal isn’t just confined to the seedy dark corners of the internet by showing  Jon oogling women on the covers of magazines on stands in supermarkets and in tv commercials. When Jon meets Barbara  the hottest girl that he has ever encountered, he decides to play the “long game” and commits to her in an attempt to score/screw/sleep with her.   Jon is able to give up other women for Barbara, but he cannot give up porn. He tells viewers that porn is “better than real pussy” – because he’ loses himself in porn, and real women are never as good. [POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING: It’s worth noting that all this ‘telling’ comes with a lot of pornographic imagery]. Porn basically teaches Jon that there is a certain way that sex should be and the reality does not live up to the representation.   Throughout their relationship Barbara is clearly a pornographic conquest — but what is interesting is that Jon is equally so for Barbara.

imagesLike Jon, Barbara is basically a stereotype. She is a woman who is interested in controlling a man using sex, so that she might achieve her ultimate goal, getting married. Repeatedly in the film we see her manipulate Jon using sex – for example she convinces him to go to school and pursue a better job, while he is on the verge of orgasm. Like Jon’s porn addiction, Barbara  consistently watches romantic comedies (rom-coms) – which teach her that there is a certain way that “love” looks. Barbara’s rom-com obsession is presented as a foil to Jon’s porn obsession. In other words, the film makes a clear argument that the representations that we are watching obscure reality, rendering women as objects for sexual pleasure to men and men as objects of responsibility and violence to women.  Don Jon goes as far as to argue that these representations are forcing us to live as disconnected empty shells. The point Don Jon is making reminds me of Jane Caputi’s The Pornography of Everyday Life.

Ultimately,  Esther (Juileanne Moore), a widow teaches Jon that women are more that objects – and sex is way more than porn.  DONJON_JulianneThe movie is graphic – but it’s also funny and enjoyable. The acting is spot on and if you ask me, this is the first movie I’ve seen in a long time, which I would genuinely call feminist slanted social critique.  As long as you’re willing to put up with the pornographic images, I say see it. Here’s the preview:

 

I am not the first person to notice this – BUST magazine covered these ideas as well.

 

#hatefatshamingnotfatpeople

I am not sure how many of you are familiar with Emily McCombs who is the managing editor at XOJane.com, but I’m a fan. Emily often writes candidly about her struggles with her own body image and her attempts to embrace a Health at Every Size (HAES)® approach, a perspective which forwards the idea that good health can be reached independent of size.

Last week, Emily wrote an Article entitled, “I Worked Out With Jillian Michaels and She Made Me Feel Bad About My Body”. For those of you that don’t know, Jillian Michaels is one of the trainers on NBC’s The Biggest Loser.

In the article Emily admits that she “used to really like Jillian Michaels” but after posing a HAES oriented question Emily’s affinity for Michael’s has dimmed.  You should probably read the whole article, but I’m most concerned with Michael’s Response to Emily’s Question:

[Emily]: A lot of our readers are really into size acceptance and Health at Every Size. Your brand is so aligned with weight loss, I just wonder how you feel about exercise for fitness vs. exercise for weight loss.

JilIian: I don’t even really know what that means. I’ll define health for you. If your cholesterol is good, your blood sugar’s good, your blood pressure is good, that to me is healthy. I believe that you should accept yourself as every size. But I’m not gonna sit here and pretend that you’re physically healthy at every size because you’re not.

And I also don’t believjillian-michaels-yellinge that even though you might be 100 pounds overweight, you’re going, “Oh I’m good the way that I am.” BULLSHIT. I don’t believe that you don’t wake up in the morning and feel uncomfortable in your skin. I don’t believe that you don’t feel insecure when you pick your kid up from school. I don’t believe that you don’t feel uncomfortable when you’re naked in front of your husband or your wife for that matter. I don’t believe you.”

Clearly, The Biggest Loser is a show that buys in to the fat=bad/thin=good paradigm and according to the blog Dances with Fat, Michaels has a history of fat-shaming beyond the hollering, screaming and berating she does while training fat people on NBC. In particular, Michaels has been known to use the hashtag “#hateobesitynotobesepeople,” and as Ragen Chastain explains, “you can’t hate obesity but not obese people – it doesn’t work that way.  If you hate obesity, then you hate me.  I’m not a thin woman covered in fat, I’m a fat woman.   You can’t love the thin person who you wish I was without hating the fat woman I am now.”  In other words, if someone accepts their fat body or is trying to accept their fat body – they must begin by understanding that their fat is a casing to be shed. It is part of them. Jillian Michaels has made it clear that she doesn’t understand this.

Soooo… there is no reason that one would have expected Michaels to respond to Emily’s question in a manner that was fat-positive or fat-accepting, but still when I was reading Michaels’ comments my face contorted and smoke came out my ears. Who is this woman to say that if I’m fat I cannot enjoy my body? Why does she think she has the right to call my comfort and self acceptance “BULLSHIT” and impose upon me the idea that during my morning nude hours, when I’photo(3)m showering, blow-drying and primping for the day, I’m also feeling shame that my husband can see my nakedness?

Please. (Eye-Roll.)

And worse than insulting me, Micheals is confirming the fat fears of women everywhere: if I don’t ever get thin (a statistically improbably goal), I will never be happy.

ARGH! %^$&%*!!!! (Wave hands about in frustration)

The idea, that all fat women hate their bodies and not one person ever has loved them, is a lie.  It’s fat-shaming, a fat-specific form of body-shaming.

Please hear me. No matter what Jillian Micheals has to say, I am here to tell you that there are fat women, like me, who enjoy our bodies and feel comfortable in our own skin.  I can’t speak for all fat women but my fat body wears a bikini, has orgasms, lifts weights, runs, dances, has ideal blood pressure and cholesterol, eats fruits and veggies, laughs, cries, loves, struts about naked, and allows me to do pretty much anything I desire. My fat body is amazing. It is nothing to be ashamed of.

Furthermore – women of all sizes and shapes – not just fat women – feel uncomfortable in their bodies and this discomfort is the issue. Being a thin or thinner woman does not ensure a release from the trappings of bodily-hate.

In western culture – which is rife with toxic messages about woman’s bodies – there is no perfect body image. (How much do you wanna bet that Jillian Michaels has days where she feels icky about her appearance?)  That said, self-hate is not the only option. We can fight for our acceptance – we can acknowledge that some days we are able to embrace our bodies and feel awesome and other days not so much; we can point out body-shaming, fat-hate and fat-shaming and tell people it’s not okay; we can insist that fashion designers acknowledge the fat body as a viable canvas for cool clothes or make these clothes ourselves; we can write letters to the media calling for a diversity of bodies in our representation or better yet make media that represents a diversity of body-types. We can stop trying to hide, step into the light and say, “I’m Fat – and it’s none of your business, so keep you hands off my body.”love your body

If you’re interested in thinking about body acceptance you should go like Emily McCombs on Facebook, and while you’re at it go like her colleague Lesley Kinzel, and my body positive website, Extraordinary Being too. [Side note: Lesley Kinzel’s awesome book, Two Whole Cakes was published in 2011 by the Feminist Press]

To learn more about the HAES® approach or to have a speaker talk to your group about fat-positive living check out Kate Harding, Hanne Blank  or me.

#hatefatshamingnotfatpeople
#iheartmybody
#fatpositive
#extrabeing

This post was originally posted on Soapbox, Inc.

Lesbian Love Octogon – Final Weekend

So, if you happen to be in New York this week you should take the time and go to see The Lesbian Love Octogon, a musical, currently housed at the Krain theater.

I had the pleasure of giggling and belly laughing at this poignant and well performed show last Saturday night. The plot revolves around a group of lesbian women living on the lower east side in the ’90s. The music and lyrics are quippy and hilarious — ditties like “dyke drama and tofu scramble.” And the message the audience is left with is an increasingly valid notion – we are more than the theory that has been written about our identities.

If you don’t take my word for it check out this Time Out review.

It is also worth mentioning that the fabulous Viri Lieberman has been documenting this musical comedy’s trip too off off Broadway — so if you go there’s a chance you might spot her! Check out her promo on indie gogo.

Raising children is a Job. And it should be legally recognized as such…

Once again I find myself in the position of defending stay at home feminist moms. Tonight, I’m tossing around this issue because I’ve just had the unfortunate experience of reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s article in The Atlantic entitled “1 Percent Wives Are Helping to Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible”.

Okay – just to be clear, I find Wurtzel’s brand of pithy offensive and bitterly righteous. For example, I offer up this gem: “When I meet a woman who I know is a graduate of, say, Princeton — one who has read The Second Sex and therefore ought to know better — but is still a full-time wife, I feel betrayed.” Gag. So, if I were say a graduate of Valencia Community College – but had still read Beauvoir – would I be as offensive to Wurtzel? Are only the 1% her issue because there are others who choose wife and mother.

Wurtzel argues that “there really is only one kind of equality — it precedes all the emotional hullabaloo — and it’s economic. If you can’t pay your own rent, you are not an adult. You are a dependent.” Honestly, I think there are more women who think this way than I would like to admit – but I would argue that this completely misses the issue at hand.

Culturally we worship money and power and look down our noses at compassion and care — this framework allows jobs that were traditionally categorized as masculine – doctors, lawyers, politicians, bankers etc. – to be viewed as more prestigious than jobs that were and are still often fulfilled by women – elementary education, child care, nursing, secretarial work and of course mothering. In other words – men – and women enacting roles that were traditionally held by men are seen as more empowered.

This of course leaves stay at home moms sitting on their couches, eating bonbons and doing nothing of importance, which is ridiculous. Raising/rearing children is valuable and needed. The issue is not that women shouldn’t choose to stay home, if they so desire, but rather that the culture does not recognize the value in this endeavor – and reward or respond financially. At Rollins College in Winter Park, FL (my alma mater) I once heard Gloria Steinem say that perhaps the best way to deal with this issue was to work within the system and offer a tax benefit/deduction of some kind for women who choose to take on the challenge of staying home to raise their children – sounds like an awesome solution to me.

I know this is one of my favorite rants – but feminism is about choice and social justice for all people. ARGH!

P.S. Thank You, Mom. You’re fabulous and I treasure the fact that you poured your heart and soul into raising me.

An Afternoon in Boston…and by the way what’s up with PETA?

Randy and I are up in Boston for a good friend’s wedding, so we spent the afternoon traipsing around my old stomping grounds and few things happened that I wanted to share with you all. First, we had the pleasure of  walking past Roxy’s Grill Cheese Food Truck:

Randy noted that the Roxy Logo was similar to the new feminist cupcake logo, which I thought was pretty cool.  We ordered two sandwiches – a mac and chorizo grilled cheese and a fall inspired grilled cheese which had butternut squash, raisins and granny smith apples – can you say yum?!?! The food truck idea is so awesome – I am totally going to look this up from now on — in fact, I’m thinking I need to share more of my food exploits with y’all. Because to be honest, when I’m not thinking feminism, I’m thinking travel and food. So, if in Boston on a Friday afternoon, definitely hit up Roxy’s Grilled Cheese – they park outside the public library in Copley Square.

Secondly,  I wanted to share this gem, which they were selling at a novelty store on Newbury St:

I don’t have a whole lot of deep thoughts to go with this moment – To be honest, my first reaction was to giggle but ultimately, I think I’m offended by the ‘designer beaver’  because it’s objectifying and represents the vagina a plaything to be manipulated.

Finally, there was  another weird objectification moment at the Copley Square farmer’s market – Have y’all seen the PETA Pilgrims?  I didn’t have a camera with me, but here is an example:

Apparently sexy pilgrim outfits promote tofurkey…  This is not the first time that I’ve seen PETA use the objectification of women as a tactic for saving animals — the argument is vegetarian is “sexy.”  Take a look:

It seems so bizarre to me that a group of people who are trying to save the lives of animals would do so by capitalizing on the objectification of female bodies. I was particularly frustrated by this image, which seems to sexualized violence towards women in order to make a point about cruelty to animals:

PETA also makes fun of and perpetuates fat prejudice:

I am all for a discussion of animal rights – I am horrified by the cruelty that animals suffer at the hands of human beings – factory farming, puppy mills – these things are sickening things and you can and should read about these issues. BUT I am also horrified by PETA’s advertising campaign. Is this the kind of thinking we genuinely want to see for those that are working with a social justice issue – or isn’t the goal to rise above the commercialization and commodification of humans/animals as objects so that we can end the world’s inequalities??

Clearly, PETA doesn’t get it.

Understanding a little Judith Butler…

So let’s be honest here – postmodern philosophers write using such dense language that I am fairly certain you need a graduate degree to dissect what they’re saying.  Perhaps and undergrad in philosophy can handle the serious post-modernists, but this PhD student (that’s right, I just talked about myself in the third person) didn’t really get a handle on postmodernists until grad school. That said, I think that  no matter whether you choose to agree or disagree with her, grasping Judith Butler is key to contemporary feminist thought/queer theory. In particular, I think we all need to genuinely understand her concept of performativty.

Judith Butler’s book  Gender Trouble (1999) presents the idea of gender as “performative,” implying that gender is not an innate quality linked to sex but rather a series of “fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means” (2584). Butler uses “the performance of drag” to exemplify “those aspects of gendered experience which are falsely naturalized as a unity” (2549-50). She shows how the very nature of the drag performance – the idea that both physical and mental gender codes can be enacted by any/either/all sexes – unearths gender as “parody” rather than innate bodily function (2550). In other words gender is an enactment separate from our chromosomal sex, which is learned and practiced, quite like playing the piano. Butler’s details an understanding of gender as performance and parody, so that she can underscore the idea that these performances are “repeated…with the strategic aim of maintaining gender within its binary frame,” which in turn maintains the patriarchal and heteronormative dynamic of western cultural traditions. Butler purposes that escape from this binary lockdown could possibly be achieved through the “failure to repeat, a de-formity, or a parodic repetition that exposes the effect of abiding identity as a politically tenuous construction” (2552). More simply, she is saying in order to escape the boxes imposed by culturally constructed gender norms, we have perform and repeat other gender constructions so that they might expose the nature of gender as performance.

If you are interested in Judith Butler’s ideas there was wonderful documentary  about her thinking created by Arte, which you can watch on You tube. Take a look at the first installment:

Work Cited

Butler, Judith. “Gender Trouble.” 2001. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed.Leitch Vincent, et al. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2010. 2540-53. Print.