For real, I don’t. Here’s why.
May 18th, 2013 · No Comments
May 2nd, 2013 · No Comments
Here’s another place where you can find me posting things irregularly and impulsively.
April 27th, 2013 · No Comments
So I wrote a couple pieces for The Frisky this month:
In honor of the late, great E.L. Konigsburg, author of one of my all-time favorites: 10 Life Lessons From the Book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
And a very personal essay about eating disorder recovery, fat acceptance and thin privilege (Plus zines! And Nomy Lamm!): Confessions of Thin-Privileged Fat Activist
January 25th, 2013 · No Comments
More than 86,000 people signed Julia Bluhm’s petition asking Seventeen to include an un-retouched photo spread each month. And she’s not the only activist stepping up. It’s time for a revolution. Here’s why.
We’re Losing a Generation of Leaders
“By the time we’re old enough to seriously consider becoming leaders, the majority of us are crippled by insecurities about the way we look, which we internalize and equate with our sense of worth on all levels,” writes 18-year-old author Julie Zeilinger in a Forbes article titled “Why Millennial Women Do Not Want to Lead.” This self-doubt is amplified to the nth degree by the way our culture treats women who are at the top of their professions. The public eye is critical. It counts pounds and zeroes in on every freaking “flaw.” It makes us utterly fearful of landing in its line of sight.
“I’ve been spending a year and a half meeting teenage girls who just hate themselves,” singer Kate Nash recently revealed in an interview. “They’re really insecure about the way they look, and at the age of 14, dismiss the idea of becoming a musician because of the worry about how the media would treat them.”
Young women are shying away from all kinds of stages, including political ones. The relentless appearance-focused jabs at women in public office–from Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann to German chancellor Angela Merkel–do not fall on deaf ears. “The glass ceiling is hard enough to break through and when a powerful woman is thrown into the spotlight, she is bound to be criticized for being either too feminine or not feminine enough.” writes blogger Brittany Cullen. “This double standard is perhaps another barrier that prevents women from seeking public office.”
A recent Proud2Bme poll asked, “Has your body image ever prevented you from participating in an activity you enjoy or would like to try?” An overwhelming 90% answered “yes.” Body insecurities aren’t simply holding girls and women back from wearing bathing suits and having fun at pool parties, (which is bad enough); they’re stopping us from taking on leadership roles. And when women are still maxing out at 16% of the top positions across every sector, it’s clear that we need to nix the vanity talk once and for all. This is not a battle with the mirror. It’s a battle for equality.
Girls Are Being Being Erased
When 14-year-old Julia Bluhm petitioned Seventeen magazine, her request was far from outrageous: “I want to see regular girls that look like me in a magazine that’s supposed to be for me.” That. Right there. That is the issue. The thin, white models are not the problem. The problem is that we ONLY see thin, white models (except for those rare cases when we might see a few thin, light-skinned models). It’s not that Photoshop is inherently bad. It’s that the overuse of and overdependence on Photoshop ends up making us feel bad–really bad. When magazines brighten and lighten, when they erase every little pimple and curve, they’re erasing us too. As a teen activist from Sisters Action Media points out in this video, “The only diversity I see is brunettes, blondes, and redheads.”
Following the huge outcry of support for Julia’s Seventeen petition and Seventeen editor-in-chief’s public response, Carina Cruz, 16, and Emma Stydahar, 17, created a petition to Teen Vogue. “It’s time for an end to the digitally enhanced, unrealistic ‘beauty’ we see in the pages of magazines,” they wrote. “We are demanding that teen magazines stop altering natural bodies and faces so that real girls can be the new standard of beauty.”
This is what body image activism is all about–and why it’s important that we seize this moment and this momentum. We need to talk back. We need to make our own media with our own messages. We need to speak up when we feel invisible. We need to keep reminding media makers that real girls are here. Watching. Listening. Ready to change the game.
Girls Are Getting Sick
Fifty-three percent of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. The number increases to 78% by the time they reach age 17. Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives. Disordered eating and poor body image are complex issues and we can’t blame the media–entirely. But no way, no how should we let them off the hook. Seriously, is it such a coincidence that we have an epidemic of body hatred in a culture that is constantly telling us that life would be better if we were thinner, more fit, had straighter hair, lighter skin, if we could somehow fix our “problem areas”? Of course those are all empty promises. There is no beauty prescription that will really lead us to happiness. But the message is that we’ve got to keep trying—and keep buying (products, “plans,” “solutions”). So what happens when an entire generation is plagued by bad body image? We get preoccupied with all the wrong things. We get sick. We lose our power.
Young women–and an increasing number of guys–face intense pressure to conform to an ideal that blatantly rejects the diversity of who we really are. On top of the constant noise about what we should look like, we’re exposed to a steady stream of toxic media snark that targets women’s bodies, cruelly reminding us of what we should never allow ourselves to be: imperfect, different, human. Yes, each of us needs to work on our own self-acceptance. But we also need to step up and advocate for social change. Because this is not just your problem or my problem–it’s a full-on crisis. And the stakes are high.
January 25th, 2012 · No Comments
Because who doesn’t need pro-pixel intensifying fauxtanical hydro-jargon microbead extract? Hilarious spoof, and a great teaching tool to boot.
October 20th, 2011 · No Comments
Proud2Bme is a new online community for teens that aims to promote positive body image and healthy attitudes about food and weight. I am overseeing the site’s content as a consultant for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and I’m collaborating with a growing list of amazing contributors including the unstoppable Emily-Anne Rigal of WeStopHate, teen activists from the Boulder Youth Body Alliance, Melanie Klein of Feminist Fatale, girls from Girls Inc., Stephanie Covington Armstrong (author of Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat), and many, many others. It’s a veritable body acceptance love fest, people.
The Proud2Bme movement was started in the Netherlands by a young woman named Scarlet, who was horrified to discover the unsettling universe of pro-ana websites in her research of online communities. In recovery from eating disorders herself, Scarlet set out to create a positive, non-toxic space for those who needed support for their disordered eating, poor body image, and low self-esteem. Proud2Bme.nl has grown to be the top help website in the Netherlands. NEDA is now launching the English language version. And lucky me–I get to be a part of it.
So here are three simple things you can do to help make Proud2Bme a success:
1. Spread the word to the teens in your life and to anyone you know who works with teens. If you are a teen? Sign up as a member and contribute blog posts, videos, or artwork.
2. Follow Proud2Bme on Twitter.
3. Like Proud2Bme on Facebook.
August 12th, 2011 · 9 Comments
I’ve known Jess Weiner for a lot of years. We’ve connected at different points in our lives, our careers, our body image activism, and on our paths to making peace with our own bodies. From our first meeting, I have counted her as a friend and ally in this work—work that is a whole lot easier to do honestly and authentically when you know that there are trusted colleagues who have your back. When my inbox started blowing up this week with “Have you seen this?” “What’s your take?” and even some “WTF?” messages about her Glamour essay, (“Jess Weiner’s Weight Struggle: Loving My Body Almost Killed Me”), I had to stay out of the fray for a minute. What did I really think about the piece?
I read the article wearing a few different hats. I tackled it from a media literacy angle. Then I explored how I felt about it as a body acceptance activist and as someone who has recovered from disordered eating. Finally, I thought hard about how to engage in a public conversation about the piece while honoring the respect I have for Jess. I reached out to her privately and she agreed to address some of my concerns on the record. We met up yesterday and chatted over breakfast. There was laughter. There were tears. There was oatmeal! Here are my reactions to the article and my interview with Jess.
[UPDATE: Glamour has changed the title of the online piece to "Jess Weiner: Did Loving My Body Almost Kill Me?" The question mark was added to clarify that this was a personal process of questioning her own attitudes about food, weight, health, and body image. She also asked that they remove the mention of a "weight struggle" from the headline. She did not intend for this to be a story about weight, so the original framing of the article confused her message that health, not a number on a scale, was her priority.]
1. Did loving her body really almost kill her? I mean, really? The article’s title was a sensational doozy. But I was fairly confident that Jess had not suddenly flat-out rejected the idea of body acceptance after nearly two decades of work in the field. I asked her to clear that one up first.
CM: Ok, so what’s up with the title?
JW: The title was about an inner exploration and question that I was having. It was not intended to be a declaration that in general, everyone who loves their body is hurting themselves. That’s too literal a takeaway. My intention for the piece was to talk about the fact that my own version of what it meant to love my body, even as a self-esteem expert, even as an eating disorder survivor, even as a conscious woman aware of body image issues—even then, loving my body didn’t involve getting deeply involved in my real physical health. That was a conflicting, confusing, vulnerable, and scary place to find myself in. So for me, that was the question. Had my own perception—my own, underscore my own!—of loving my body stopped me from really knowing my body? And the truth was that for me, it did. It meant that even though I wasn’t weighing my worth on the scale, I also wasn’t looking at the weight gain I had had over the years. I wasn’t looking at my blood pressure and my cholesterol, and those were things that were troubling to me. And I feel like there are so many women out there who are in a position similar to mine. They’re questioning those things too and they don’t know where to take them. I found myself in a very tricky spot and I needed to figure out where to go from that question.
2. Working within the media to change the media is no easy task. Of course it was frustrating for me to see that a story about how Jess improved her health by adjusting her activity level and working with a nutritionist and therapist was packaged as a story about her “weight struggle.” [UPDATE: The "weight struggle" has now been removed from the title. See above.] After all, she said herself that health, not weight loss, is her priority and that the weight she shed was not as dramatic as she expected (I did raise an eyebrow at her admission that she still wants to lose 30 more pounds despite her doctor’s assurance that her numbers cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, triglycerides are now in the healthy range, but I’ll get to that in a sec). So how did weight loss become the hook? Well, it happened because this story is in Glamour magazine. There are tradeoffs when you talk about body image issues in mainstream media. On the plus side, you have the opportunity to reach millions of people. And you might just sneak in some messages that rarely see the light of day outside body acceptance circles. But the downside can be a big downer. Mainstream media operates in sound bites. They have to grab audiences with provocative headlines. They have to answer to advertisers who wield a tremendous amount of power–advertisers such as diet, beauty, and fashion companies, most of whom sell their products by exploiting women’s insecurities about our bodies. There is not much motivation for them to promote ideas that challenge the “self-improvement” status quo.
But I believe there are some victories to celebrate here. Consider this: When’s the last time you heard the language around the national obesity debate described as “shaming” and “vitriolic” on the freakin’ Today Show? Yeah, that happened. And it was Jess who said it, even as she sat in front of a cheesy “Are you healthy at a size 18?” graphic. Would she have been given such a massive platform if there hadn’t been some kind of weight loss angle to the story? Sadly, probably not. The reality is that it is very hard to communicate clearly about food, weight, health, and body image when you’re dealing with mainstream media biases, profit motives, and sometimes downright cluelessness. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
CM: What are the biggest challenges you face talking about these issues in the media?
JW: I walk a very slippery slope, and I do that consciously. I mean I’ve chosen to crawl into the belly of the beast by going to Hollywood and working within media to talk about issues that have incredible layers and nuances to them. This piece is no exception. This piece, however, comes from a deeply personal place and knowing that it was going to be in a mainstream women’s magazine and that it had the potential to reach millions of women, I was speaking to the most general audience that I could imagine. I was speaking to women who are curious about what real health means in their life. I wanted to speak to women who may have had a history of yo-yo dieting and disordered eating and confusion about what it meant to be really healthy and I wanted to try to include nuances in literally a 1,500-word article that doesn’t always allow for it.
So some of it hit. I thought I got some great messages in there. I thought I did a good job talking about doctor biases in a way that hopefully enlightens both the physicians and the patients. I wanted to talk about not being afraid to change your convictions or challenge your convictions or look at something deeper. For women I think that’s part of our own evolution. And I wanted to talk about the fact that it’s ok to be vulnerable and share a story. I chose to do it in a magazine, but I’ve also shared this story with my friends and family for years.
All of those issues have nuances and typical media doesn’t do a great job at covering nuances. They need extremes, they need fast hits, they need before and afters. And I fought really hard to not have a before and after photo in this piece. It was important for me that it was not about the weight loss. I understand that weight loss ended up being the hook for this piece, but that was not my intention. My intention was to talk about moderate transformation and being healthy at the size, shape, and vitality that I am now and where I want to see myself in the future—and that it’s okay to ask those questions.
I fight on a daily basis when I do mainstream media. I fight a ton of bias that most people don’t know about and I speak up wherever and whenever I can. And sometimes that’s meant that I’ve walked away from or walked out of interviews because they’re putting pictures up that I don’t approve of or they’re framing a question in a way that I don’t think is appropriate. And sometimes it means working with media to meet them where they’re at to educate them as to why this is a deeper, more complex issue than how they cover it. And people run the media. There are people producing these segments. There are people editing magazines. And everybody deserves a chance to be educated. Not everybody is going to come from the same media literacy, body conscious space that I come from. So I try to do my best.
There are tons of biases in the media. First of all, they think that anybody over a size 10 is plus-sized and unhealthy. It’s always framed as a quest to change themselves for a vanity issue. Rarely ever do we get to talk about the layered issues of health in the media. It’s always extreme, it’s always fear-based, it’s always about shame. And visually, because we now work in such a visual-based media, especially now, even with social media—everything needs to be visually provocative. And I fight that a lot because you can’t see what recovery looks likes on the outside of a person just like you can’t see health. So when I get asked to do a story or there’s an opportunity to speak publicly and they want to go that visual place that they need to go as media—They need to show people. What does this look like, right? Because they want to keep eyeballs there—I have to fight them from a content perspective and say this is more than that, this is deeper than that.
I think people who watched my press on The Today Show and CNN might have seen me do that. I had to correct the reporters who asked questions that were completely off the mark of what we were there to talk about. But that happens all the time—not just around this issue, but in general. As a media person, you have to try to guide the conversation back to the points you want to make. And again, I try to do my best.
3. Body acceptance is an individual process, and it’s not a perfect one. I’ve been recovered from disordered eating for over fifteen years. The daily struggle part of my recovery is a distant memory, and hopefully it will stay that way. I’ve got my own strategies to ensure that it does. I go to the doctor regularly, but I don’t weigh myself or focus on numbers. I eat intuitively and as healthfully as I can, and I never restrict. I exercise in ways that make my body feel good. I have a strong support system in place and I stay in tune with what’s going on with me emotionally. It threw me to read that Jess was disappointed that she hadn’t lost more weight despite cutting out desserts and exercising when she was exhausted. And why does she want to lose 30 more pounds when her doctor says she’s healthy at her current weight? Doesn’t that reinforce the dangerous idea that no amount of weight loss is good enough? Aren’t restriction and overexercise no-nos for people with eating disorder histories? For some, yes. But these are also her choices. Our eating disorders were different. Our recoveries are different. And the truth is that I’ve had body image “disappointments” too. I co-authored a book about accepting your body before and after baby. Does that mean I wake up every day feeling fabulous about the way I look? Um, not so much. I have mostly good days and some bad ones, just like a lot of smart, kick-ass women I know. We need body image activism that allows for the fact that activists live in this f*ed up world too. We see all the b.s. about how we should be striving to be thinner, prettier, and all-around perfect. Let’s try not to beat ourselves (and each other) up because we can’t find the superhuman strength to resist those messages 100% of the time.
Jess told me, as she told Kate Harding, that her 30-pound goal is a “moving target.” She has goals for her body size and strength. She wants to be able to hold the plank position for a minute. She wants to run a marathon. She believes that losing more weight will help her reach those goals. And at the end of the day, the way I feel about her 30-pound goal isn’t really the point. I don’t live in her body—I live in mine.
CM: Where can we go from here?
JW: The one thing I would love to share is that I am still me. My convictions and beliefs around everybody’s individual right to health, happiness, and freedom from body tyranny have never changed. What I really wanted to do is just [and here’s where things got emotional]…I wanted to share with people that even someone who knows or thinks she knows what she’s doing—whether you’re a mother, whether you’re an expert, whether you’re a teacher—there’s always a space to learn and to grow. And I wanted to challenge something that I thought was taboo. I wanted to look at health and part of my looking at health included weight. I wanted to feel like I was allowed to do that. And I think I was the one telling myself I wasn’t allowed to do that. That was my own journey in redefining loving my body. I now care about my body enough to want to find optimal health and happiness for me. And it’s not a number. It will never be a number. But I wanted to look at the numbers in my life differently than I had before. They didn’t have control and reign over me—they were just indicators. I actually found great, deep connection to my body by looking at numbers periodically. It was a way that I hadn’t communicated with my body before. What I hope now that people take away from the article is that perhaps they can re-read it with some of these nuances in mind. I’m learning, especially as a media person, I’m learning how fast rumor and gossip can spread and how some people will read a piece—no matter what I say–the way that they need to read it. But I want people to know that this is just the beginning of a conversation and not the end—of the world! You know what I mean? I mean, really. I want to just have some levity here too. It’s my body. It’s my process. There have been a lot of people who’ve felt that they’ve been given the permission to ask the tricky questions around this issue, and that’s all I wanted to do.
May 13th, 2011 · 22 Comments
The United States has issues when it comes to food, weight, and body image. There are an estimated 24 million people who suffer with eating disorders (a growing number of them are children), and even more Americans who fall into gray areas of disordered eating. Then of course there is the much-discussed problem of obesity. Add it all up and we’re talking about a serious public health crisis. So what can we do about it? Experts in the fields of eating disorder and obesity prevention came together this week in Washington, D.C. to propose solutions. Here’s my roundup and analysis of key recommendations from “Pounds & Policy: Effectively Communicating About Weight and Health,” a panel discussion co-hosted by the National Eating Disorders Association and the STOP Obesity Alliance.
1. Start talking about Obesities (as in plural)
Chevese Turner is the founder and CEO of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). A recovered binge eater herself, she stressed that there are many different ways that individuals reach weights that are considered obese. Some are disordered eaters (she estimates that 70% of her organization’s constituents are overweight), others have limited knowledge of or access to fresh, healthy food, while others might be naturally larger in size and lead healthy, active lives. The current strategy of talking about a scary, monolithic obesity epidemic and holding weight loss up as the magic fix-it is not getting us anywhere. We need to look at the complex and varied reasons why people are obese and we need to offer complex and varied treatments that get to the root of those reasons. And while we’re at it, let’s acknowledge that fat is not necessarily an indicator of poor health, just as thinness isn’t necessarily an indicator of good health. Not all fat people need to get thinner in order to be healthy.
2. Stop With the Fat Shaming Already!
You know what really irks me? News segments about “the war on obesity” that rely on footage of larger-sized Americans innocently going about their business, unaware that they’ve been transformed into Headless Fatties (or the slightly less ubiquitous Blurred Face Fatties). These are the media images that have come to represent obesity in this country. They are representations based on shame, and according to Dr. Rebecca M. Puhl, Director of Research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, they’re not encouraging anyone to be healthier. In numerous studies, Puhl and her colleagues have concluded that stigmatizing obesity actually impairs obesity prevention efforts.
To see one of the most frightening examples of how this is playing out, you can look at what’s happening in schools. Several parents of teens recently reported that their children suddenly started sneaking food and exhibiting an irrational fear of fat after participating in a “Healthy Food Program” at school. And this is not an isolated incident. Across the U.S., students are being weighed (often in front of their classmates) and sent home with BMI report cards. Kids with “failing” grades are humiliated and parents are routinely shamed into putting their children on diets, which can trigger eating disorders and lead to future weight gain.
“Longitudinal studies show that dieting predicts weight gain over time. Many overweight people have fallen into a lifelong cycle of short-term deprivation followed by overeating,” said Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, professor of public health at the University of Minnesota and author of I’m, Like, SO Fat: Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight-Obsessed World. That unhealthy cycle, fueled by cultural stigma, has made the diet and food industries billions of dollars–the kind of dough that pays for all those advertising messages about “simple” weight loss systems and “indulgent” treats. Which brings me to the next step…
3. Expose the Lies and False Claims of the Diet Industry
It’s important to get the good science publicized by providing succinct and compelling information to reporters, as Sarah Kliff, health care reporter for Politico suggested. However, that’s an uphill battle when you look at just how much power the diet and food industries wield.
“Mainstream media aren’t motivated to talk about how diets contribute to poor health because they depend on advertising dollars from these industries,” said Jean Kilbourne, a longtime media critic and author of the seminal Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. The food and diet industries are also powerful lobbies in Washington, which means that their interests are represented in health policy, often above the best interests of the public. But giants have been toppled before.
“With tobacco, it wasn’t about repeating the message that smoking is bad for your health or telling people not to smoke. What it took was a movement of people who were angry that they’d been manipulated,” said Kilbourne. That movement really picked up steam with the success of a counter-advertising campaign called truth, which engages youth and sparks consumer activism through media literacy. From their website:
Our philosophy isn’t anti-smoker or pro-smoker. It’s not even so much about smoking. It’s about an industry manipulating it’s products facts and advertising to replace the 1200 customers they “lose” every day. You, know, because they die.
The truth campaign has been able to penetrate people’s consciousness because of this approach, but also because it is well-funded. Very well-funded. The campaign is a project of the American Legacy Foundation, formed as a result of the Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco companies and 46 states. It was the biggest civil litigation settlement in U.S. history, with Big Tobacco agreeing to pay the states billions of dollars. And a chunk of that change has covered the costs of the truth campaign.
Ah, imagine a day when the Dexatrims and Slimfasts of the world would be forced to bankroll advertising that revealed just how dangerous, unhealthy, and scientifically-proven-to-FAIL their products really are. Imagine if the Jenny Craigs and the Nutrisystems were no longer able to hide behind that “results not typical” asterisk. Imagine if we were finally able to get the real picture of how we’ve been duped into thinking that dieting will make us happier and healthier, when the truth is that it’s making us sick.
April 20th, 2011 · 1 Comment
I got to tackle that question along with other WAM! LA presenters and attendees. The result? A Photobooth of Change! Check it out…
March 16th, 2011 · No Comments
Interested in media literacy, gender equity, body image, social media, and just all-around awesomeness? WAM! (Women, Action & Media) LA is the event for you. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE? I’ll be speaking along with other activists including Melanie Klein (Feminist Fatale), Pia Guerrero (Adios Barbie), Anita Sarkeesian (Feminist Frequency), Morgane Richardson (Refuse the Silence), Revolution of Real Women, and many others. The conference is March 25th and 26th at Santa Monica College. RSVP and get all the details HERE. Hope to see you there!