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I usually don't (won't) watch any reality television. Television is better if it either collects something, information or art or whatever, or just appeals to my fantasy.
But last week I watched the "Loser" weightloss show (and blogged it), and this week I found myself watching it again.
I want to draw some connection between this show and Kathleen LeBesco's latest. I was disappointed in the book a bit - it doesn't have a lot that seems new and drastic to say, and I loved the transgressiveness and inversion of Bodies out of Bounds. And really, how much did I need to re-hear the point that Judith Butler's insights on queerness and gender apply to fat, too? Seems obvious.
But LeBesco's perspective on fat "apologism" is a good one. It doesn't matter politically if you contextualize it as a genetic fact or a choice, as long as you step away from thinking of fat as a disease and a debilitation in and of itself. I said that a couple of years ago, and I'm pretty sure the others I've learned from have been saying it for much longer. Some things bear repeating.
This television show is strangely compelling. I think anyone who can watch it without revulsion is hoping for a transformation. Probably most people aren't thinking of the transformation I'm thinking of, though.
Last night, everyone lost a lot less weight than the first week. Yeah, I've seen that cycle before. I bet all the fat people on the show did. They voted off a woman who weighed maybe 175 lbs (pretty tall, too) and didn't lose weight; they decided that small people had less weight to lose. That's the barometer they go with when they vote off team members, who they think has the most capability to lose more, based entirely on what they weigh. They cry a lot, which makes sense - they're in the worst sort of boot camp, and it's not like they can really rely on their team members for support. I suppose the show is aiming for sniping and such. It's pretty revolting. It intentionally plays the emotions. It wants to be revolting.
So, the first week they leech all the water out of their bodies, and the second week they lose a little weight. Exercising most of each day, eating a lot less than normal, basically giving up all sense of normal routine and their own community; it's no surprise that they're pissed they don't lose more. It doesn't seem like anyone notices that these results say a lot about the complexities of people's response to food reduction and exercise. We're not calorie-processing machines. That's what I would want people to take away. It's more complicated than that. People build muscle, too. Muscle is heavier. I wanted to grab and shake someone and say "IF YOU FEEL HEALTHIER, MAYBE YOU ARE" when she started crying about how she felt so good but she was just bad because she wasn't losing 20lbs every week.
The women they voted off this week and last get shown at the end of the episode with how much weight they lost or kept off. I wonder if they think 10 lbs is failure or success, you know? If they think that 10 lbs is worth handing weeks of your life over to someone else?
We must feel so badly about the body. As a culture, I mean, we must feel terrible and hateful things to want so badly to change this little quantifiable number. To make it smaller; to make making it smaller this overarching focus. It seems like something's fundamentally broken.
I don't think that combatting the science of the Obesity Crisis! Egads! is really about apologism. I think Kathleen's wrong about that one. The audience is different. The science is our olive branch to the people on the "Loser" show and the people who are thinking the same things but not on television. People who haven't had the realization that weight gain or loss isn't all about willpower, but might be happier if they did. Maybe you need to have that before you can start to wonder whether fat is really all that bad or not.
I started to care about these people, about the things they represent in the rest of us. That's why I keep watching this show. I want them to feel better. I want to understand better how they came to conclude that this was the thing to do.
I want - I want more people to look up and look around them and wonder why they have to waste all this time and maybe, well - revolt. And I kinda want the big quiet black man to win or to stand up and walk out.
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Hey, I just realized that this week marks the rough one year anniversary of what was formerly known as New Healthy Active Lifestyle (now simply the stuff I do) AND the four-year anniversary of my first blog entry (10/30/00, entitled "bite me, sierra club", back in the Diaryland days - one of a handful of entries I later copied to this site).
utopia part three
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This morning, I caught a bunch of what I believe to be really stupid misinformation about children and teenagers on the news. One piece casually dismissed kids on skateboards as a menace to society while it seriously considered whether old people on scooters and motorized wheelchairs ought be able to drive 5mph down a local street. Kids are bad! Old people, who may have more experience but impaired senses, aren't.
And then (or before, whatever) there was a bit about how sexual predators are coming into your home (via the internet), thereby making your home about as safe as the mall. Which is, in essence, true - kids have about a 1:1,000,000 chance of being kidnapped or assaulted by a stranger in the mall, which isn't much higher than the chance of it happening in your house. Of course, if you factor in the possibility of a kid getting sexually abused, they're much more in danger from the people their parents bring home (and the parents themselves) than from strangers. The suggestion touted in this ridiculously badly researched piece was that you try to invade your kids' privacy as much as possible.
So, I'm continuing my continuence of the utopia piece, with the bit about education and children (#1 from my original list). The essential tenet of dealing with children is that they must be granted every human right granted adults and granted individuality. As the t-shirt my partner covets said, children must be seen, heard and believed. (narf) But they also deserve what every adult deserves - the basics of life, of course, but also trust and assumption of their competence.
My views on education and rights for kids are based upon (or at least reflected in) those espoused by John Holt and the like, and those theorists have written many books on the subject that I trust you can read if you're interested. Their main idea, and mine, is that the most important thing we can do is educate kids to become better thinkers.
Humans have a strong impulse to learn, and our current system of education and parenting squashes that more than it values it. Education in my ideal world would allow for a lot of different types of schooling, for more freedom for families and communities to interact with children (and for kids to participate in the adult world they want so badly to join), and for a notion of learning that isn't classroom- or youth-bound but rather all about experience. It would not include rote learning, forced adherence to curricula or standards of proficiency in subjects - or, for that matter, subjects themselves.
There'd still be a need for schools for kids to meet at and for teachers who could offer guidance, answer questions & provide approaches for people to select from when they, for instance, wanted to learn to read. I think the single greatest use of teachers and schooling would be in asking questions - not "what's 2 + 2" so much as "why do you think that?". But everyone around you would serve as a sort of teacher in this way.
Kids in happy feministy heaven would also be spared gender bias and all the many million little subtle and not so subtle hints adults send them about the importance of being "normal" or "what girls do" vs. "what boys do" or skin color or any of that other shite. Partially because adults wouldn't have these issues themselves (and so wouldn't, say, treat a baby in blue differently than a baby in pink) and partially because adults would teach with listening and giving real - that is NOT black and white - answers to questions.
Childcare, by the way, would also have little bias of any form, because every child would have a community of chosen family members (all of whom are presumably bias-free, at least in my community) to care for it - those people would generally be of somewhat varied thinking and background. Men and women and those other and in between would all consider themselves equally responsible for childrearing, and this would be facilitated by economic factors as well as the political nature of the community.
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For those who are (or just may be) interested, I've broken out the folkloric dance (i.e. bellydance, hula, ori tahiti, etc.) links I've been collecting for awhile into their own category in the "exits" section of this site: go visit them.
I'm just a beginner... well, maybe an advanced beginner in a few areas, but a beginner all the same. But I've gotten really excited about these dance forms - it's a good time.
When I am a purple haired old lady, I think I will teach dance to other old ladies.
utopia part two
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This post is (obviously from the title, I suppose) a continuation of the utopia series. This segment is primarily concerned with the community/family (#3) and governing (#6) questions I brought up last time.
There are few ways in which my utopian vision of feministy delight coincides with a sort of "greatest generation" reverence for the 1950s. But there is one:
I really do think the family is the base unit of government and socialization and all that.
I'm not talking about your nuclear family, but about the people you choose to draw around you, the ones you will count on to take care of you and vice versa. In an ideal world, the resources and flexibility would exist for individuals to be geographically close to their family and to live within like-minded communities (of course your biological family isn't always going to be full of like-minded people, but you'd still have your community, your chosen family). It's analogous to the self-governing "hive" idea that Greens and others have talked about over time.
So, recognizing the importance of chosen family, I'd do away with the institution of marriage as we know it (that is, one with a single set of rules applied to all people and limited to two people of opposite gender) and we'd have the ability to define relationships based on a range of commitment levels, presence of kids in a family, number of people involved, etc. If you could prove you were co-resident or co-responsible for a family, your family - however you defined it - would be recognized by the government.
This guarantees people a support network, and also provides a sort of official understanding for a wide range of families - ideally, each family's contract would also include the process to follow if it were disolved, much like a no-fault divorce. Different communities (i.e. those organized around certain religious beliefs) could certainly emphasize marriage and family in the way these exist today, but over time I'd expect the need for that to decline.
Communities, since they'd be based on mutual agreements over - well, whatever - would automatically choose different rules and levels of rules and would obviously live in quite different ways. There's room in my utopia for a degree of relativism, and respect for the possibility that, say - community A doesn't want any men involved, and community B thinks abortion is murder, as long as neither of those communities infringes on the other or violates agreed upon basic rules. But given our new greater appreciation for subtlety and grey areas (see #2, Dualism/Diversity in the original post), most everyone is willing to accept the possibility that the person they're disagreeing with is, in fact, correct. [Also, pineapple is always in season.]
A problem this introduces, of course, is movement between communities and governing at a higher level. I don't think globalization is contrary to a perfect worldish view, but a world focused on the extended family and community could get myopic. It doesn't need to be, though - we may be us-centered in the US today, for instance, but we're moving through the media towards a bigger picture understanding of the individual as both member of a community and a global citizen. I think that's a good thing.
It also introduces a need for a form of representative government, with members of many communities contributing to a baseline agreement of the rules. To tie it to representative government as we know it, communities would replace cities and states/provinces, coalitions might replace countries, and a global sort of super-duper actually powerful UN would be the forum for creating the overarching rules - which I think of as principles of human rights, methods for commerce between communities, and dispute resolution (including, if absolutely and rarely needed, use of military force).
As for the logistics of this - I actually favor compulsory short-term civil service in concept, and I think that's the most effective way to keep a large representative government fueled with non-bureaucrats. Not to mention giving every citizen of age a certain stake in the political process.
i can't believe i watched the whole thing
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Where is that from? "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" - that's from something, right? Maybe a commercial from the eighties. But - for what?
In all seriousness, I can't believe I watched the entirety of NBC's deeply pointless Biggest Loser last night. My excuse is that I was also doing my clubbells, which took me a lot longer than the 40 minutes it was supposed to, but still not nearly an hour and a half (the length of this show). The workout is mentally involving, and while I like having something to look at, I don't pay a lot of attention. Yeah.
Trust me, I paid enough attention to this show, though. It was about as contrived and ridiculous as the average "reality" show, with the added bonus of spreading some misinformation about fat and weight and such. It's essentially one of those "people live in a house and vote each other off" shows mixed with the most aggressive fat camp ever mixed with that show where people eat bugs and stuff (lots of shots of giant piles of donuts and fried chicken looking really icky). They fat camp it up, they get weighed, the team who loses less votes someone off. They cry and vomit, often at the same time.
I started out thinking it wasn't that bad, silly but not stupid - that is, that the concept was overworked, but the essential message was okay. Because they did start off talking about living more healthily (a self-involved fixation for a lot of us, self included, but one with a positive intent). For instance, the players were all greated with all the food each of them had eaten for the prior week, laid out on a table. There were a lot of donuts and cheeseburgers. And sure, eating a dozen donuts over a week, not so good for you (particularly not so good for your energy) no matter what you weigh.
From there, though, it became more and more apparent that, whatever "healthy" meant to these folks (both those producing and those participating), that was ultimately much less important than the appearance of "healthy", aka THIN(ner). Very Darcy/Mr. Wickham of them.
One of the most telling moments in the show involved one of the women breaking down because she DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO EAT (her caps, not mine). And we were just talking in the body_positive community about the possibility that America has collectively dieted itself out of touch with real eating. Fascinating - there it was on screen. The bummer, though, is that the approach being taken on this show (layering on rules) is exactly why people have a hard time knowing how to eat in the first place. It doesn't seem to me (from years of dieting and watching others do it) that dieting rules only beget more dieting rules and rule-breakers.
But the approach, despite trainers' assertion to the contrary, is clearly not centered on giving people a new approach to life - dude, they work out basically 8 hours a day. Which could be a new approach - essentially making exercise and food-counting the only things you have time to do - but is really just an intense diet program, one so intense that most people couldn't maintain it as a lifestyle (and therefore, presumably, these people will go back to being their old fat selves - possibly ditching the whole thing the first time they gain a pound). This is only emphasized by the insane weightloss people experienced the first week - some of them lost as much as 5% of their body mass, indicating they could have lost muscle as well as fat. Ick. The shows powers that be took measurements and body fat percentages and such, but the participants were only accountable for the pounds, thus reinforcing the idea that a scale number is a good measure of your health and value. See? Not just silly, stupid, too!
I wonder what would have happened if a size acceptance advocate had snuck on to the show as a participant. I guess they would have been voted off, whether they also lost weight or not - because a key part of the show seems to be the participants' willingness to humiliate themselves. Seriously. The trainers think of exercising until you vomit as a good thing. If a thin unfit person did this shit, we'd think (quite rightly) s/he was bulimic. But if a fat person does it, I think we're supposed to assume they're being served appropriately.
Sigh. Not watching THAT again. I will say, other than the panicked attitude towards their size evinced by the participants, the show is no worse a blow to good health and reasonable thinking than anything on the morning news. And it's probably no worse at trading on humiliation that any other "reality" show for trading on humiliation.
Why do we like this stuff? I have to find someone who watches such things and ask. I don't get it.
utopia part one
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The question I posted this week (the best question [from me] ever] on WHB was this:
Your assignment for this week (or however long it takes you - this could be a very complex question): tell the rest of us about your feminist utopia. You don't need to worry about what's realistic or how to get there (although if you have ideas, by all means share). Just think about it. [Read the question & comments]
I intend to spend some more time considering this topic, but in the meantime, here are some general thoughts. I'll expand upon each of these subtopics in subsequent blog posts and link them back here.
1. Children and their rearing and education. This is either first or last logically, because the way we teach children in many ways dictates how society will go, but it's also a result of the world around them. I also have some base ideals of how we should treat children - granting them some real autonomy but also giving them support - that would have to be the foundation of a utopian education system. [Covered in PART THREE]
2. Dualism/Diversity. In my ideal little world, we'd shift away from a that/not that view of people and their differences. This applies to gender, race, sexuality, etc. - pretty much any circumstance in which people might create an us/them division. I've talked about this quite a bit before and so am referencing another post. [Covered in LIBERATION! (August 2003)]
3. Community & Family. Namely, that every family would be able to dictate for itself what "family" is (this also goes for "marriage", though I'd actually do away with that term) and that families in general would be supported by the larger community. Loads to think about here. Also, do I deal with federalism here? Or do I assume a certain homogeneity from community to community? Do I want everyone to agree with me, or is it better to have a wider variety of opinions? Wait and see. [Covered in PART TWO]
4. Sex. The changes cascaded from 1. and particularly 2. would play a big role here. But there's a lot to be considered, things I haven't yet made decisions on - like the role of commodification here, of sexual media and such. [covered in PART FOUR]
5. Media. Maybe it's just because I'm pretty plugged in, but I see more global media like the internet as having the potential to play a positive role in crossing the boundaries of communities and making us a more matrixed world. That, and more independent ownership and production of media would be a good thing. [covered in PART FOUR]
6. Governing. More and more I come to see this as an outgrowth of the social factors I've already mentioned. Ultimately, I don't think hives completely work - they create another that/not that division. But a wide-ranging, semi-global governing structure kinda wants to be representative. This one's a challenge. [Covered in PART TWO]
7. Economics. I'll actually cover this one largely as a subcomponent of each of the other topics, too, but this is the condition on which everything else is based in my mind. Without balancing economic opportunities, equality on any other level is nearly impossible.
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This past weekend I rented Supersize Me on a whim. Thanks to the invention of the "movie pass" at the video store, I now feel I can watch even movies I know I'll hate bits of, and actually get more value for my dollar (if, perhaps, less value for my time).
It was not as bad as I had expected.
but wait! there's more »
The movie's website makes it sound as if the film is a misdirected expose of the Obesity Crisis! Egads!, but its real emphasis is on the general badness of fast food. Well, duh. It may be comforting and (if you say so) tasty, but it's like cigarettes. No one really thinks it's any good for them, but we're so tired of all the things that are supposed to kill us that we're just overloaded. We give up. So, talking us into thinking McDonald's is bad? Not gonna work.
As a movie, it worked mostly because Spurlock is of a Michael Mooreish school of filmmaking - he mocks, and mocks himself as much as anything else. So there was funny; it was disarming. But it also (not unlike Mike's films tend to) suffered from his him-ness. First, it would have been better if he were smarter and more reflective. And then - for all he may have grown up in industrial West Virginia, he comes across as a believer in the inherent superiority of upper middle class Manhattanite living. Given that there's such a class and geography component to fast food eating, it felt like he was scoffing as he mocked. No good. Also, not at all useful if the goal were to convince people not to eat of the arches of gold - I'm a sarcastic hipster, and I had trouble relating to him.
I'd be very curious to see what the audience demographic of this movie was. I suspect many people came to have their feelings of superiority backed up, but maybe I'm just cynical.
In addition to the problem with the movie's tone was the niggling issue of his research methodology. Which was never clearly explained aside from a commandment to sample the entire menu, but apparently meant eating a shitload of milkshakes. Why so many milkshakes? It's not a drink, it's a dessert item. [Sidebar: when we went to Cz and Jess's wedding, Alan left a partially consumed Jamocha shake (from Arby's) in my car. Three days later when I investigated the cloying smell of decomposition, there it was - and while it was hot, it was still more or less the same texture the shake had been when frozen. Ew. Also, as I write about this movie, I feel like I have to tell you all that I had salad at that Arby's, so you know I'm not being defensive and am just as snotty as Spurlock himself. Cause what I eat so clearly defines my value.] So, he exercised as he learned (from where, he didn't say) the majority of Americans did, but he ate in a way that was fundamentally worse than the vast majority of us.
I assume he was trying to prove the worst case results, since his hypothesis was something vague about whether McDonald's could really be responsible for someone's health problems. Which, by the way, he came pretty close to doing. His medical health indicators did plummet, he claims to have felt pretty horrid, and he certainly looked greenish most of the time. Still doesn't prove McDonald's fault for the effect of the food one could choose to eat or not eat, but it was interesting. And I must add that it was this - the HEALTH effect of the food, not the fat bashing - that was the primary focus of the film and the real case he made. Good on him.
The movie's treatment of fat when it did go there, however, was appalling.
For instance, the very thin man who'd been eating several of those big saucy burgers a day for years. Spurlock didn't even note what must have been his "But you're thin! You should be FAT after all that!" reaction. For a movie that opens with the usual stats on the Crisis of Obesity! Egads! voiced over countless headless fat torsos (although me and my fatties mock you, Morgan, cause 75% of those torsos were diving into pools or jogging or walking dogs; even the headless fatties can't be counted on to just suck down a Big Gulp when you need them to). For a movie that included the musing that it's okay for non-smokers to harrass smokers for damaging their health, and he hopes that we'll eventually get to a point where people can tell you to go exercise (clearly he's never been fat, or he'd know this does happen to people).
For a movie that hates fat people so much, it was rather surprising that nothing was said about this guy's non-fatness. God forbid we not be able to tell from your outsides what you're feeding yourself! Better to just ignore it. [Or maybe that was cut out for length, who knows?]
He does the same thing in a "man on street" interview with a fat French woman (or maybe she's Quebequois?) who doesn't eat fast food. Your weight is only important to Spurlock if you prove his hypothesis that McDonald's makes you fat.
The saddest moment of the movie is not the headless torso barrage, or the moment that Spurlock learns he shouldn't eat that much in 10 minutes and yacks out the car window. It's the scene with that guy from the Subway commercials, who apparently now takes his big pants on tour to schools. He does his speech and this adorable round girl and her adorable round mama come up to talk to him. And the girl so clearly wants to cry, thinking that walking to Subway everyday's the only thing that can change her life. And he says: "You can't change the world, you have to change yourself."
You giant asshat, big pants man. YOU change YOUR self. Let's ungay the gay people, unblack the black people, unreligious the persecuted, cut out the tongues of anyone who refuses to speak English, and just all get plastic surgery to look like Katie Couric while we're at it. If the world can't accept that people are different (it can, actually) then it's broken and we'd better change it. I mean, who knows what a broken world might do?
I laughed. I cried. Then I got angry.
That's a pretty good summary of the movie, actually. Except that, for the most part, I laughed or was angry.
And that's pretty much it. It you're looking for any information that will improve your life in even a tiny way, this is the wrong movie for you. If you'd like to hate yourself or others depending on your weight and lifestyle, you'll have a great time. Honestly, though? The best reason to watch this thing is because you'd like to be able to bitch about it intelligently.
Which I hope I've done.
« get it out of my sight!
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I have friends, online and of the flesh and blood variety, who hesitate - or simply refuse - to call themselves "feminist" despite their clear and obvious fitting into the simple textbook definition of the word.
This bothers me, sometimes, because they tend to accompany this self definition with a lower level of direct involvement with the politics of gender issues. And frankly because a lot of lesser mortals do claim the appellation and do get involved and are sometimes a giant pain in my ass.
Why do you have to choose a label to be involved? Really, who decided that? The label may make it easier to belong, but it doesn't affect your individual ability to act. Well, it does - but it doesn't have to. We could just accept other's actions and avoid trying to categorize them.
All of this is by way of introduction. Over the past couple of days, an issue that has been simmering in the various LiveJournal feminist communities exploded not unlike the polenta I cooked last night did (damned electric stove). There were injuries (psychic only, unlike the polenta), but it really came down to the same thing we'd been angry at each other about for awhile.
And it's summed up in labels.
but wait! there's more »
There is a side of feminism, generally considered a sort of young-feminist, third wavey thing, that calls itself "pro-sex" or "sex positive". What is meant by this is that feminists of this group consider the issue of sexuality to be primary - that the battle of equality will be fought over women's bodies, and our right to choose our own form of sexual expression will eliminate some of the biggest inequalities - rape, the beauty thing, reproductive choice, gender roles, harrassment. Feminists who call themselves sex positive mean to say they want you to enjoy sex however you want, that it's safe to talk to them about sex, about sex work, about porn. They will not judge you.
There are, admittedly, feminists of this group who believe that anyone who isn't using whatever their brand of kink is (be that porn, prostitution, BDSM, whatever) just isn't really liberated. It's a common thread in liberal environments to assume a hierarchy of liberatedness, to make it unacceptable - or at least unevolved - to not delight in everything that was once largely taboo. Lately, puzzling.org speaks of it in a broader context of offensiveness and taboo.]
So, despite the overall theme of pro-sex feminism's support of a wide range of possibilities for sexual expression (including not having sex at all, let alone partaking in this kink or that), individual members of the group can - intentionally or unintentionally - broadcast this attitude that, if you don't like what I like and do what I do, you are... ANTI-sex.
Which understandably angers feminists who think pornography or prostitution or stripping or whatever - usually it's all the ways sex is commodified through the industry that specifically sells it - is inherently damaging to women. Implying that a woman (or group of women) is anti-sex is essentially calling her a tremendous prude, devoid of sexuality, and most of us - for whatever reason - have a lot of our identity caught up in our sexual selves. [The question of why that is and its really really really complicated answer will wait for another day. Why is it "bad" to be asexual? Or "too" sexual?]
To those of my feminist cohorts who ever felt that my identification as sex positive was an indictment of them as sex NEGATIVE, I apologize. Not what I meant. Not what any of us meant.
And yes, I'm talking to the members of the camp of feminists who refer to themselves as "anti-porn". Sounds uncomplicated enough, right? Except that there is frequently no agreed definition of porn used outside of any one community of pro- or anti-porn feminists.
One of the communities I belong to defines porn as explicitly that which sells the sexual degradation and/or violence against women. I personally see pornography as anything that promotes sex as a commodity - which is, admittedly, almost everything in mainstream media in this country. I do think the former is inherently bad for our culture, but I don't know about the latter - and both are, if anything, best described as symptoms of whatever's up culturally than they are as the cause.
Even the very simple prefix "anti-" can be surprisingly vague. Never mind what definition of porn you're against - how are you against it? Do you want to make it illegal? Change the mode of production? Stop demand for it? Stop its abuse? Support the workers? Make the workers into criminals?
I think each anti-porn feminist (which I also count myself among, as I think there are aspects of the whole mainstream porn culture that are fundamentally broken and must be changed if we're ever gonna get true equality) or community has a different idea about what it means to oppose pornography. So it's hard for someone outside that definition to understand it.
And so I apologize to any of my pro-sex feminist cohorts who've ever felt like my anti-porn stance was anti-them, cause that's also... you guessed it, not what I meant.
I believe these labels are our problem. We're not here in this movement to damn each other with labels like "slut" and "prude", but that ends up being what the other side hears when we try to summarize the complexities of our positions in a two-word label. We need to work through the complexities and the questions, not turn them into platforms.
I don't know if it's a sound byte phenomenon or a result of short attention spans or what, but not every issue can and should be boiled down into a handful of words. This is one of them. Honestly, I think the sex positive and anti-porn divisions are forced and artificial - even where the sex industry is concerned, feminists agree on a lot more than we disagree on.
So why not view each other through the whole of what we say and do?
« get it out of my sight!
long drawn-out body image history
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Last entry I mentioned wanting to write down all the steps I'd taken where my body imagey stuff was concerned, for posterity or for the curious or whatever. I tried not to draw too many conclusions as I wrote it (to just let events stand for themselves), but that didn't work out so well. Really, when you're talking about memory, how do you go about distancing what happened from what you think about what happened?
So, here goes. I've tackled it as a complete history, cause that was interesting to me. If you're looking for advice on living, I would skip way past college if I were you.
but wait! there's more »
Elementary School (and earlier): I have generally very vague factual memories (they're more like sense memories and pictures) of anything more than 15 years in the past). I distinctly remember being called "pudgy" by a babysitter when I was five and knowing that "pudgy" was very bad. I know from stories that I was a little obsessive about girlishness and flat-out refused to wear pants from age 4 to age 6 or so. I usually hung around older (7 and 8 year old) kids, who were very decisive about what boys vs. girls do.
[Which is a challenge that any of us who choose to have kids and not raise them with gender stereotypes. There will be parents and teachers who say things like "girls like pink" and there will be other kids to reinforce that. So probably the most useful thing you can do for your kids is convince them to question things really really early.]
I had weird school issues in first grade. I started wearing glasses in second grade. I got the World's Worst Haircut in third grade, which is when I actually started looking kinda pudgy. I was pretty much the essence of tragic nerd.
All the playing I remember doing was very focused on girlness. Yes, dress up stuff, but also - I recall playing at "kidnapped child being rescued" and "sexual assault victim" as well as the usual soap operatic Barbie games. The sources for that play were primarily the cautionary tales of Officer Friendly. Which just goes to show how early we start initiating children, especially girls, into a culture of fear.
Puberty & Middle School: If you are already a dork, there is little more upsetting that growing breasts at the age of ten. I remember nothing from that year other than a vague haze of teasing and harrassment from other kids. And also suddenly feeling completely clueless about girlness. Where had all my training gone?
Yep. So, there I was, wearing a bra (which I was deadly ashamed of) and hitting my full adult height (5'2") and bleeding and suddenly actually starting to be fat (despite people's assertions before, if you look at photos, I didn't actually get fat till I hit puberty), and I'm just getting out of the pigtail habit. Other people, family included, started tormenting me for being fat as well as for just being dorky (well, family had never cared about the latter).
It sucked. So I started shaving my legs, got contact lenses, braces, and went on my first diet, which I'd learned about from the pages of my mother's magazines and from other girls. I didn't tell anyone, cause that would be admitting to being fat and ugly. God forbid! In any case, I continued to diet (including a "vegetarian" period consisting mostly of pineapple juice and rice cakes) through middle school. I wore too-small, graying bras to hide my development. I also continued to dress like a complete tool, but it was the eighties. There was a perm involved. There was a lot of effort involved in trying to be attractive to boys who wore pink knit ties.
But I'm starting to diverge from the body image story - it's the great temptation to mock eighties fashion. I never had - and have never since - felt as terrible about my body and my worth (which were, in my mind, completely tied together) as I did from roughly 1985 to 1988. I seriously got up every morning and tried to suck in enough air to count my ribs. I weighed myself twice a day or more and freaked if I gained a pound. It was a bad scene; there was just no way I'd be anything but ugly.
Enter High School: I actually rocked high school. I left a private school for a public school and theatre magnet school (it was a half & half deal), which meant I was "smarter" and more articulate than most everyone half the day and was surrounded by other much freakier freaks the other half.
Body image in high school, then, had a very different meaning. I remade my image probably 4 or 5 times. I tried girly (another year of refusing to wear pants). I tried old-school punk. I tried preppy. Image became more about performance than attractiveness; attractiveness itself became more about how "you" you could be. I stopped obsessing about weight by end of junior year, ate like a horse and I think started getting thinner (though it's hard to say given what I'd been wearing before). I bought the first truly good bra I'd owned at Victorias Secret (a new store at the time) at a Virginia Theatre Association conference in 10th grade. Um, I also accepted a dare to dance around in that bra at the same conference. VTA was pretty much a giant artistic makeout festival. As was the Rocky Horror Picture Show. As were most of our theatre crowd's parties.
Which is not to say that I was blissfully happy. I still barely dated, and my few forays into dating and sex were mostly disastrous (in that maximum awkwardness and/or humiliation was achieved at every turn, except for the bra incident). But I don't remember hating my body, not explicitly. I think part of that was the sexual tension around - that the body was now exciting - and part of it was being accepted as a freak, rather than being accepted only when I could pass for a non-freak. Oh, and there was this unbelievably hot girl who was rounder and weirder and smarter than me. Giant crush. Might have helped, too.
I left high school a brilliant academic success with purple hair, a healthy disregard for norms of appearance, and a drawer filled with fishnets and tights with circle cut into them.
Oh, hell. College: And I'd been doing so well.
Well, at least I started getting regular exercise for the first time, like - ever. With the walking. But I started out eating absurdly too much, of all the wrong things, then shifted to subsisting on caffeine and nicotine. I lost several pounds freshman and sophomore years, and I look pretty tired in most photos.
Because I was. Without any explicit "I'm ugly, I'm fat, I'm bad" track playing in my head, I picked up a bulimic's eating pattern. The feeling of being empty was so nice; I'd not eat for 3 or 4 days to keep it going. Then binge on pizza and fizzy drinks, and start again. It was the essence of ick. But because I started out weighing maybe 150-160 lbs, I was suddenly sexy when I hadn't been before and everyone congratulated me for getting to a "healthier" 120-130 (still on the "high" end for my height, ironically). Yeah, passing out in class is healthy.
I think the worst period was second semester of sophomore year, when I had no meal plan, my roomie and I were basically estranged, and I spent most of my time with the stupid potheads. No one ate around me, so I didn't eat; I'd forget. I still forget to eat if left on my own sometimes.
But I had other friends who socialised around food, and I just kinda got over it by being around them. Well, that, and being more sexually active. And then I got fat again. I stopped walking as much, admittedly, but mostly I just went back to eating somewhat normally.
Post-college, midlife crisis: Buying clothes to try to get a job after college led to my recalled first fight with my mother over my weight (I think I was maybe back at 150?). There were probably tears. So, I "struggled" with weight - meaning I bought slightly too-small clothes and made punitive plans to eat only foods I didn't like or exercise 2 hours a day; these plans weren't very effective, I just got fatter and fatter.
And yes, I was eating a little more than I absolutely needed and getting almost no useful physical activity in. But I went around thinking I was a terrible person about half the time. It was more or less middle school all over again, but without the constancy. I was okay sometimes. I was plucky and almost size-accepting sometimes.
[Big newsflash in all of this: my body image is tremendously impacted by life transitions. If I perceived the transition as negative, that's the direction my self-opinion went. Duh.]
It was actually another fight with the 'rents - again over the weight thing and their "concern" that I'd never be gainfully employed or directed or successful in any way as long as I was slightly fat - that got me to stop being such a giant wimpus and try to do something about being cool with myself rather than doing stupid things like the no-food-for-three-days-diet.
I read Marilynn Wann's Fat!So? on an all-female media consumption jag, and I started buying clothes that fit without worrying about having the suffix "-teen" in my size.
Finally, I grow up! This is where the good stuff starts.
So, back in college I'd hooked up with the feminists because I was already hanging with the queer kids - same crowd, basically. It's not like I wasn't clued in to the whole beauty myth idea; I was just (and still am, though in more balance) more concerned about the politics than about the things that seemed to govern individual choice. Like - do I shave my legs? Who cares?
I hadn't thought much about the whole cultural connotations of beauty and size and gender, which is remarkable when I think about how argumentative and research-prone I was. But I got there. This is basically the sequence in which I took steps.
I read and listened to a lot more stuff by women and feminists. I did (and still ought to do) the occasional feminist-media-only month.
I did some martial arts training.
I got a job I didn't hate (thereby removing the #1 stressor in my life).
I allowed myself to stop worrying about food at all. This (not surprisingly, I guess) made me fatter.
I stopped wearing makeup at all and stopped shaving for awhile. Then I started again.
I started an online journal and hung out with feminist diarists.
I bought clothes that fit right then, instead of waiting around. I gave away clothes I'd been holding onto in case I got unfat.
I started a feminist zine.
I found exercise I could do by myself, without feeling humiliated (as I had where sports were involved most of my childhood). I bought, I confess, "Sweating to the Oldies" tapes. I did that comparison "oh, she's fatter than me and she can do it" thing, which is also embarassing to admit.
I found groups of people who agreed with me (mostly on the internet) and I hung around listening to them.
I bought clothes that didn't merely fit, but felt "sexy" (whatever that is). And I wore them.
I stopped looking in mirrors so much.
I actually spoke to the people in the groups who agreed with me.
I wore a bathing suit in public.
I started a feminist group online so I could focus discussion more than on, say, the old Ms. boards.
I bought more books, more academic and theoretical books, about image and gender and such.
I started going to dance classes.
I bought more size acceptancey books, although there aren't very many good ones.
I started up a whole new "healthy lifestyle" plan, with exercise and stuff. And stuck to it. Because it was fun.
I started looking in mirrors more.
I stopped shaving my underarms again (well, mostly). Which is not to say that shaving is inherently anti-feminist or bad for your self-image. Not doing it was just a useful way to help me care less about the effort of appearance.
I went to a pro-choice march.
I went to Hawai'i.
I started an online group to talk about fitness and body image and stuff.
That takes me up to pretty much last month.
« get it out of my sight!
what exactly is body image, anyhow?
link : thoughts (2) : track it (0) : in feministy stuff
Periodically, an issue pops up and is suddenly everywhere all at once. Over the past week, it's all about beauty and body image. We got into beauty and diet stuff on one of the LJ communities, my colleagues were talking about it, my friends were talking about it, my internet circle were blogging it.
I don't know why this happens. It's possibly just an effect of my own viewing of topics - I see them a couple of times, then they filter everything I see. Or maybe it's the cascade of a topic from one person or group to another.
In any case, it makes complete sense that Alison should be asking about it on WHB.
She'd like to know:
How is your body image?
What do you do to maintain your body image?
How do you cope with medias fixation on what your body image should be?
What do you think of diet plans where exercise (and in fact healthy eating!!) are a side factor of losing weight?
How about the current round of makeover and plastic surgery shows?
And, if you have a negative body image, how does that impact your feminism?[Read the discussion.]
I'll add a question to the list: how much attention should we feminists be spending on body image and events like NOW's Love Your Body Day (which is October 20, by the way)?
I have an idea of my body built more on function and feeling than on appearance. My appearance in mirrors other than the ones in my house tends to freak me out; I frequently don't look like I feel. I feel better than I look in photographs, for instance. It's a positive sort of dysmorphia that a lot of fat people seem to build for themselves. I've been told it's a reaction, conscious or unconscious, against the "bad" things that fat represents, but I also think that it comes - for people of any size - from becoming more kinestheticly at home.
That kinesthetic sense, for me, is more resilient than answers I might give to the "how do I look" question.
When I was a kid, I would weigh myself twice a day, each time sucking in my middle bits and studying the side and front views in the mirror. Same thing every day. I stopped doing that some years ago, after destroying the bathroom scale and dropping it out a window (into a dumpster). That was one of many things I did to get out of the dieting cycle and get rid of the abusive "fat & ugly" language I'd been using about myself since - oh, since I started weighing myself, come to think of it! I should write at some point a list of the steps I took to stop hating on myself; it's a long list, and not everything actually worked, but it might still be a reference for someone looking to do the same thing.
I'm still not possessed of a constant positive attitude towards the appearance of myself, though I'm feeling good enough that I don't want to spend a lot of time on this one aspect of self. Having fun movement in my life helps, as does eating tastily and healthily and drinking loads of water. None of these things, by the way, have made me remotely thinner. I think I weighed between 220 and 230 lbs a bit over a year ago when I started daily exercise, and I weighed 224 at the doctor's office a couple of days ago. That, by the way, was great proof to me that weight is a crap measure of health and that weightloss just doesn't happen for some people. I feel great; I'm still fat. Whatever.
I find it interesting that media involvement with our bodies has actually gotten to a point where there's more than just a message of how you should look - there's also an undercurrent of how you should feel about how you look. Like feminist involvement in the beauty myth has been turned into products telling you to feel good about yourself whatever you look like, made by the same companies who sell you the idea of what you should look like. Argh. There's a positive effect of this, though - I think more and more, people are going to get frustrated and turn to picking out only the personally useful aspects of these products a la the self-styled Atkins dieter who buys no products and is simply no longer eating white bread. That's the only practical personal approach to any media attempts at involvement in your relationship to your own appearance - ignore it. There's also the political approach, which is to counter it, expose lies, etc.
Losing weight is a lousy goal. Most people who take on this goal fail (or they succeed, but success is temporary, as the body is designed to rebound from starvation). Weightloss itself, divorced from the positive effects of eating or exercising healthily, has little usefulness. Why bother? I think all weightloss oriented diet programs are lying to you. People don't change size without changing the way they eat and expend energy on a long-term basis, and even then, it might not mean weightloss.
Makeover and plastic surgery shows make me cry. They are, as much of the body image discussion is, too, about making your physical self an obstacle to your actual life.
Which brings me to the role feminism plays in all this. I am of two minds on this. Feminism has encouraged women particularly (but all people, really) to think of themselves as beautiful and worthy. And yes, one strategy for coping with a culture that emphasizes beauty as representative of worth is to redefine beautiful to include yourself. That makes the observer-dependency of beauty more obvious.
A disadvantage to this, though, is that you end up with people spending just as much time as they might have on dieting or clothing or surgery, but now turning that effort to "why can't I lurve my body?". It can turn, as I alluded earlier, into another demand placed on you. I know some folks who've rejected this and choose to define themselves as ugly or simply not put effort into this; it makes a lot of sense and sure seems to take a lot less time.
Right. So, what feminists need to be doing where body image is concerned is two-fold - first, broadening the norms of beauty to include damn near everyone (understanding that individual people have preferences, but those don't need to suit a cultural norm) and second, questioning the valuation of people as beautiful/not beautiful in the first place. I think we do okay on the former, but the latter really only comes into play in theory and academics.