“Should.” “Don’ Wanna.”

Everything seems to be taking a little longer today.  I am out-of-sorts and easily irritated. “Should, Don’ Wanna” is my theme song.

Is there a pressing should?  Well, I could do X, Y or Z. Yeah. I could.  I try to remember to say ‘could’ instead of ‘should’.  It’s definitely a less violent word than should, but still triggers an apathetic “but I don’ wanna”.

Where am I going with this?  Into a dark, self-defeating hole.  Think I’ll stop now.  I’ll come back to this negative chant – which can be viewed from a more positive angle in terms of choice – some other day.

I do have a piece of (potentially exciting) news to share. Here is some information about a new movie called FED UP, that’s coming out in May. It’s clearly promotional hype, but there is one sentence, which I have highlighted below, lest you miss it (grin) that speaks directly to so much I have been trying to say in this blog. I am so, so eager to find out the veracity and the source of this statistic.

Thirty years ago the U.S. Government issued its first ever dietary guidelines and with it one of the greatest health epidemics of our time ensued. In her documentary feature debut, executive producer and narrator Katie Couric joins Laurie David (An Inconvenient Truth), Regina Scully (The Invisible War) and Stephanie Soechtig (Tapped) to explore why, despite media attention and government policies to combat childhood obesity, generations of kids will now live shorter lives than their parents.

Upending the conventional wisdom of why we gain weight and how to lose it, FED UP unearths the dirty little secret the food industry doesn’t want you to know — far more of us are sick from what we are eating than anyone has ever realized.

The truth is, only 30% of people suffering from diet-related diseases are actually obese; while 70% of us — even those of us who look thin and trim on the outside — are facing the same consequences, fighting the same medical battles as the obese among us.

Following a group of children for more than two years, director Stephanie Soechtig achieves a profound intimacy with them as they document their uphill battles to follow the conventional wisdom, ‘diet and exercise’, in order to live healthier, fuller lives. They are undertaking a mission impossible. In riveting interviews with the country’s leading experts, FED UP lays bare a decades-long misinformation campaign orchestrated by Big Food and aided and abetted by the U.S. Government.

Here is a link to the trailer, which doesn’t address the 30% and 70% statistic, but it’s worth a look.  Sugars

 

 

Shrinking patriarchs

I want to express profound gratitude to two individuals whose writing and insights have given me enormous comfort and courage as I proceed with the examination of my life story.  They are not alone in the pantheon of the wise and kind, but they are stellar.   Star Fruit 1 Thank you, Brené Brown and Eckhart Tolle.

I will begin with this quote from Brené Brown:

“Our stories of worthiness – of being enough – begin in our first families.  The narrative certainly doesn’t end there, but what we learn about ourselves and how we learn to engage with the world as children sets a course that [may] require us to spend a significant part of our life fighting to reclaim our self-worth…   (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, p 216-217)

Here’s one of the first memories that comes to mind.  I’m a preteen, visiting my paternal grandparents.  We spend an evening at the home of their long time friends, people who have known my siblings and I since we were born. After supper we play a game of Scrabble.  I’m enjoying the experience; not exactly a ‘grownup evening’, but special nonetheless.   When there is a debate about the Scrabble acceptability of a word, I am sent to the next room to fetch the dictionary.

The moment I am out of sight (but not ear shot), Mr. G pronounces “It’s a shame Cathy takes after her mother; she could be a very attractive girl.”  My grandfather concurs, deriding my mother’s body size and agreeing that I am not likely to marry well. At the time, I didn’t even notice that their wives did not speak up; I shut down completely and didn’t hear another word all evening.

How or why has this ‘minor’ incident continued to be so charged?  Well, I’ve answered this question before:  I have given it power for years.  I enhanced its strength because I never spoke about it.  I never even imagined telling my parents what I overheard.  Never.  Why?  Did I believe that they agreed?  Was I already so convinced that I was unworthy and therefore had no reason to complain, since they were just speaking the truth?  Was I scared of what my parents might say?

                                                          * * *

Owning my story does not mean making it my life story – creating my reality by perpetuating the story line.  So, I’ve made a museum.  Actually I think I made it long ago, enshrining the incidents and people who caused me to feel pain and shame; those who shamed me.  The central gallery has contained larger-than-life-size images of my father and his father.  That has been the core, the heart of the collection:  Childhood.  There is also an Adolescent wing.

For many years I’ve wandered these halls, having locked myself in; I was trapped inside.  While there, I regularly re-lived these events and the figures of these men grew with each replay, like characters in a tale by the Brothers Grimm.  In silent action clips, I fed their looming shadows, swelling their images for decades.

As I’ve begun sharing these stories, owning them and sharing them, owning them by sharing them, I realize I’m no longer alone in the halls of my museum.  As I stand in and walk through these halls of shame with others, I see the images I’d created of these men are beginning to shrink into insignificance.  They no longer dominate my life story.  Powerful shame-loss.

The tightly sealed doors, now open from the outside, have allowed others to enter and join me in the museum.  As the enshrined figures shrink, the storybook power that had sustained them is broken, triggering the release of the interior locks.  I am able to leave, to exit these galleries built of my stories.  I own them and now I can leave them.  With the shattering of the spell, I awaken, seeing where I have been trapped and discover that I can walk away!  As I take each step, with each bit of distance, my vision clears.  The museum shrinks and I begin to see so many other elements of my life: things that are also and now my life.

Owning my story

Back to de-constructing shame for a bit.

 “… that core belief that we are enough comes only when we live inside our story.  We either own our stories (even the messy ones), or we stand outside of them – denying our vulnerabilities and imperfections, orphaning the parts of us that don’t fit in with who/what we think we’re supposed to be, and hustling for other people’s approval of our worthiness.  Perfectionism is exhausting, because hustling is exhausting.  It’s a never-ending performance.”

from Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, pp132-133

Perfectionism and performance.  Ouch.  The effort to ‘look good’ continued far beyond my adolescent years of hustling for appearance-based acceptance and approval.  Long past the drive to ‘look right’ physically, I was caught up in a trap of questioning: ‘What should I be doing?  Is this how I should behave?’   Frequently feeling like a failure, but worse than that, an empty failure.  Questioning why I was doing this or that and if I really wanted to be doing it.  Failing at the doing and at the same time not really having my heart in the doing.

What am I trying to get at here?  Is that hollow feeling actually resentment rattling around inside my head, asking ‘Why am I doing this?”  And how does this relate to the Brené Brown quote above?  The part that resonated for me was ‘owning [my] story’.  I want to do that.  All of it.  I want to feel that I am enough.  I want to know, to find out if I can be enough without hustling and performing and meeting the needs and expectations of others, or more accurately, what I believe they expect or need from me.

In some ways, that’s what is at the root of my messy stories:  the deeply ingrained habit of ‘reading’ and responding to the emotions of others.  Hustling to meet the needs of others, to ‘make’ others happy, has set me up for a lot of misery and manipulation.  Feeling used and resentful, but at the same time, blaming myself, knowing that I’m the one making the choices.  Each time I do this, (and there is/has been too much of it) it feels as if I’ve again stepped away from my path, my story.  My needs and desires and dreams.  Or am I?  Is this my path?  Service?  Service with a smile?

A therapist once asked me, astounded, “Are you really only as good as the last good meal you cooked?”  Yes.  This is still very often the truth.  If I write something that feels honest and expressive, that is another good feeling, which gives me a flickering sense of self worth.  But meals I have to cook every day.  Writing, I don’t have to; because cooking is for other people and writing is for me, the cooking has greater value?.

I’m able to feel pride and self-acceptance in terms of cooking.  I have confidence in my ability to make a meal.  I find value & self-worth in feeding others.  (So frigging retro.)  A corollary to the question “Are you only as good as…?” is that if I make a meal that’s imperfect, sub-par or even one that I like, but others don’t, I can serve it.  I do serve it.  I may feel twinges of shame, but they are survivable because I have a reservoir of feeling worthy as a cook.  The shame does not win in those situations.  I do not crumble when I fail to reach perfection.

Here’s another quote in Daring Greatly, from an interview Brown did with Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project).  She says, (cribbed from Voltaire) “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  What a concept: doing something imperfectly is better than not doing the perfect thing at all.  Two examples that hit home for me are “The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer.  The dinner party of take-out Chinese is better than the elegant dinner that I never host.”  Hmm.  I obviously have more thinking to do about this…

In closing, here’s a political cartoon from today’s paper. (see 2/15 blog post)

I laughed out loud. globe

Unapologetic

I’ve always apologized too much; that is I have reflexively said “I’m sorry” several thousand times when it was inappropriate.  My mother said those words frequently and it is only in retrospect that I understand how bitterly and sarcastically she often said them.  Thanks to a dear friend, who is similarly afflicted with the ‘sorry-reflex disease’, I’ve become more conscious of my habitual use of the phrase.  This has helped me to curb its compulsive appearance in my dialog with the world.

The word ‘dis-ease’, which I used above, reminds me that these unnecessary apologies burst from my lips primarily when I am ill at ease or uneasy.  Case in point:  recently, while struggling awkwardly to remove a difficult sock, I said ‘I’m sorry’ to my spousal witness.  When asked, logically, ‘What for?’ the only response I could muster was… ‘For being alive?’

A quick check of online definitions yields two items:  first, a definition:                     regretful acknowledgment of offense or failure.

My goodness, that sounds an awful lot like shame, doesn’t it?   I also learn about  National Sorry Day, an annual event held in Australia since 1998, to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the continent’s indigenous population.  Now that’s an appropriate use of the word.

What brought this up?  An article in the newspaper, heralding the upcoming appearance of Barbie in this year’s Sports Illustrated 50th anniversary Swimsuit issue.  It is unclear whether she will be on the cover or not, however having Barbie flaunt her body in this iconic [sic] setting is part of Mattel’s “unapologetic” campaign to promote sales.  I’m not going to bother responding to the whole Barbie appearance issue; been there, done that, when my daughter was young.Barbie

What really struck me was the up-front and proud use of ‘unapologetic’.  A Mattel executive is quoted as saying “… unapologetic is a word that we use internally, [but this is the first time we are] engaging in a conversation publicly.”  I believe she means that they take pride in thumbing their collective nose at those critics who see the Barbie cult as potentially damaging for the self-image of young girls.  And more broadly, I believe the Mattel Corporation is expressing a widely held and unapologetic corporate view that profit is the driver of all decisions.

Another article, ironically placed at the top of the same page (deep in the Business section) carries forward the same theme.  It details a shift in the way the sweetener section of the Processed Food Industrial Complex is promoting its products.  Headlined: ‘The Sweetener War’, the piece describes how the combatants, team Sugar and team Corn Syrup have changed their game plans.  Less money is now going toward paying lobbyists to press their agendas with government policy makers.  In a clever (or shady?) shift, these PFIC behemoths have funded non-profit groups, billed as consumer organizations, to carry out research and ‘soft lobbying’ campaigns to influence public opinion.  Lobbyists have to be publicly registered, but non-profits are not required to reveal their donors.  Is this another Citizens United ploy?  Money talks.  Hidden money buys tremendous clout.  Manipulating or deceiving the consumer is just how the game is played.  Unapologetic.

Other recent articles have exposed the shrinking package size, but steady or rising price of packaged foods.  Unapologetic deception.  A piece about pizza consumption describes the USDA ‘dairy checkoff program’ which ‘levies a small fee on milk’, which is then used ‘to promote products like milk and cheese’.  A corporation named Dairy Management Inc., which is funded by these fees, spent ‘$35 million in a partnership with Domino’s to Chzpizzapromote pizza sales’.  Other funds from the checkoff program helped McDonalds launch new burgers with two slices of cheese.  And on and on.  This program and similar programs supporting the meat industry have been renewed in the most recent farm bill.  That’s the bill that cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP.)

Unapologetic.  ‘Let them eat pizza.’

Here’s the thing… I only read this one newspaper and I know these articles represent only a small percentage of the muck that is out there to be raked up.  It makes me very tired, because there is such relentless hoopla about the ‘obesity epidemic’, which unapologetically (perhaps unintentionally) reinforces fat stigma and here ‘we’ are subsidizing the PFIC that is contributing to unhealthy eating habits.  Where’s the money, real money, to promote eating fruits and vegetables?  Where’s the money to sponsor unbiased research and publication of results that actually serve the consumer, rather than the corporation?

Returning to the personal element… I am tired of feeling apologetic for taking up space, for how I look, for ‘being alive’.  I regret all the years of reflexive apologizing.  Why do these heavy hitters, these honchos get to flaunt their unapologetic stance?  It’s all about the raging range of social inequities that confront and offend me everyday.  Well, it’s my turn.  If I have earned nothing else in my 60+ years, I’ve earned the right to healthy entitlement.  It’s my turn to be unapologetic.

Angles

Started thinking again about beauty, which led me back to this essay.  It’s another de-construction piece, digging back into the experiences that I’ve carried for so many years.  There is a small burst of joy that comes with sending these stories out into the world.  It takes the sting out of them.geometry

Thinking about harassment I received from my geometry teacher, James Love, in high school.  It’s called sexual harassment now; at the time (1969) it was called teasing and considered complimentary.  (Okay, first of all, what a name, who would believe it, right?)  Mr. Love teased me steadily, day after day in class, his comments laden with sexual innuendo.  I was mortified and definitely believed that it was me who was ‘wrong’, that my reaction of embarrassment and discomfort was somehow evidence that I was ‘to blame’ and ‘asking for it’?  He was certainly blameless, I mean, he was a teacher, for heavens sake.

I heard rumors about other, (more attractive and more sexual), girls who spent time with him outside of school, maybe even were intimate with him.  I was still somewhat nerdy, but finally thin ‘enough’ and quite shy.  I blushed easily, which added to his delight in teasing/harassing me.  Naïve.  Ignorant?  I certainly knew enough to be shocked by the sexual comments he made to me in front of the class.  In fact, he made a fool of me, for the entertainment of my more sophisticated (sexualized) classmates, highlighting my inexperience as the root of my discomfort.  Somewhere there is a photograph that was taken of me, mid-blush.  I was trying to hide behind my hair; wishing I could crawl under my desk.

All the adults, faculty and staff, joked about Jim Love.  “What a tease.  What a card.  Great teacher.  Maybe he’s a bit full of himself, but the kids love him.”  (Yuck, yuck…) Not funny for me.  There I was, struggling to be thin and fit in and be acceptable, to meet the standards of female desirability and at the same time, (or as a result?) I was praying for invisibility.

I can’t really claim that I knew, in some above-it-all way, that appearances were not what mattered; that I was beautiful on the inside.   I didn’t believe that.  I’m sure I heard those words, but they were hollow, because the opposing message was pronounced LOUD & CLEAR from every rooftop. Yes, Dylan was singing and the times were a’changing, but the message had not been incorporated into the culture.  Despite the brilliant writings of second wave feminists, the residue from the socialization of my mother’s generation was still the dominant force.  You are second best.  Always.  That’s it and it is/will be the overriding factor in every aspect of your life: family, home, school, media, relationships, college and the work world.

on Beauty

Some thoughts on beauty.  Last Friday evening I saw a local production of the play, Hairspray.  I remember seeing the earlier movie version, with cross-dresser Divine as Edna Turnblad, but I didn’t really love it or get it at the time.  The more recent film with John Travolta in that role is a favorite.  The music is fabulous, the teenage take on the 1950’s becoming the 1960’s is fun – and somewhat accurate – and the treatment of the civil rights issues of prejudice and integration are moving.

And then there is ‘the fat stuff’.  From the first time I watched the movie, there were a few lines that just exploded for me; that’s not the best description, but as close as I can get right now.  When the teenage heart-throb sings to the fat girl, “Tracy, I’m in love with you, no matter what you weigh…”, there’s a little pop in my heart and brain.  Just to hear those words spoken.  And I’ve got to admit, the zing is still strong, even after hearing the line multiple times.  I wait for those words.  I do, I wait for them.  It feels rather sad and pathetic to admit it, but I do.

Earlier in the play/film, during the fat girl’s fantasy about winning the heart of the heart-throb, triumphing over the pretty girl, Tracy sings to her ‘rival’, “Amber, much to your surprise, this heavy weight champion takes the prize…”; fat girl triumphant, with a tinge of revenge?  Stirs me up a little.  When the fat mother of fat girl sings about not being seen by neighbors since she was a size 10 (?) and not having left the house in years, I feel a little sick and scared.  I guess I relate to that wish not to be seen.  The daughter’s response “Welcome to the 60’s…things are changing out there…” leaves me wishing that had really been true in the 1960’s, my years of adolescent suffering.  Things were changing in many ways, but fat acceptance was not one of them.  It was the era of Twiggy.

In the rousing, closing musical number, the fat mother shakes ‘it’ on the dance floor, singing: “… if you don’t like the way I look, well I just don’t give a damn!” and my heart rises up at the cheer leading positive declaration.  I wanna feel that way.  But I feel acutely aware that this is fiction.  An internal battle between Yes! and nope, is activated.  Generally I push it aside and enjoy the upbeat passion that wraps up the show.  Those see sawing emotions are too familiar and the battle is never resolved for more than a split second, so why bother?

An earlier scene, which is powerfully delivered by Queen Latifah in the Travolta film, carries the refrain “Big, blond and beautiful”, which led me to begin writing this reflection on beauty.  It’s a rallying cry, of sorts, toward self-acceptance and owning one’s right to take up space, to define beauty for oneself.  I don’t find this number as moving as the integration/civil rights anthem that comes later.  As I ask myself why that is, I wonder if it’s because racial integration and civil rights for people of color are so widely agreed upon.  The wrongs of slavery, segregation and racial profiling are so profound and the path toward righting those wrongs is (and will be) the work of generations.  We are clearly not a ‘post-racial’ society, but many/most of us are cognizant of the issues.

The right to feel beautiful, to believe you are beautiful, even when you are fat, seems trivial and self-absorbed in comparison.  Clearly the writer of Hairspray, John Waters, was drawing some parallels.  To what end, I wonder?  A last note about the stage production, as opposed to the more recent film… the script contains considerably more fat-bashing dialog.  There I was, 60 years old, sitting in the audience and not personally receiving the abuse, but the sneering and mocking was stinging. It wasn’t sufficiently mitigated by the positive messages embedded in the play.  Again, hard to admit, sad and dis-empowering, but I guess echoes of traumatic moments, even second (third, fifth?) hand, carry barbs.

So, it turns out what I have to share right now are these thoughts about the play, Hairspray.  My thoughts on beauty will come another time.

Tunes and TV

In June of 1964, I graduated from sixth grade and that fall I started junior high school.       That same June, Frank Sinatra recorded the song “Wives and Lovers’, which has unfortunately been playing in my head since I woke up this morning.  Why, I do not know.  Perhaps something from my dreams triggered the association.  But I do know that the recording was played a lot during the 1960’s and the lyrics have laid claim to some of my brain cells ever since.  Along with other distorting messages of that era.

curlstart“Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up, soon he will open the door,
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger, you needn’t try any more.
For wives should always be lovers too,
Run to his arms the moment that he comes home to you.   I’m warning you.
Day after day, there are girls at the office and the men will always be men, Don’t stand him up, with your hair still in curlers, you may not see him again…

Still deconstructing how the shame-loading occurred.  The personal experiences in my family of origin, which I have been trying to disarm by exposing them to the light, are only part of the story.  They did not, indeed, could not have existed and ‘packed the wallop’ that they did, without the persistent support of the dominant culture of the times.

A dear friend recently sent me a copy of Appetites by Caroline Knapp.  It is a rich and painful book to read.  Here is one insight that really caught my attention:  “… the visual image [began] to supplant text as culture’s primary mode of communication.”  She goes on to note that images “are immediate, they hit you at levels way beneath intellect…”   So true, I thought.  She then highlights some wild stats:

In 1950’s, TV screen images changed every 12-15 seconds; by the 80’s, the speed increased to seven seconds.  “Today, [which was 2003 when her book was published] the image on the average TV commercial can change as quickly as once every 1.5 seconds, an assaulting speed, one that’s impossible to thoroughly process or integrate… they get wedged inside… insidious… come to feel like truth.

She goes on:  “This is the subliminal ooze of culture and misogyny, the source of its grip.  Images of beauty and directives about the body make women feel inadequate…” Tears sprang to my eyes and chills on my spine when she brought it home to my life today.  “Visuals operate like ‘heat-seeking-missiles’… honing in on a prior pang of insecurity or judgment…”   The images that bombard me/us daily reawaken hurtful memories of adolescence, the time when I came to understand about the “physical haves and have nots’…”

So, where does this excerpt take me?  Are these ideas a part of de-constructing shame?  Well, yes, anything that validates the misogyny and appearance-only-valuing of American culture in my lifetime can be liberating.  The sources of our shame are many and unmasking them is one of my goals here.  The poison has been a slow, intravenous drip for my entire life, for the lifetime of every girl & woman in this country (and elsewhere also.)

I can’t speak for men.  I know that there are stultifying, damaging messages about male appearance and behavior that must be damaging.  And, as I think most contemporary feminists would agree, the messages about what and how females should look and behave have been subcutaneously injected into boys and men also.  These inoculations inevitably limit male understanding of girls and women and undermine the possibility of developing healthy, balanced relationships, intimate or not.

So, yes, these insights are part of understanding and rejecting shame.  They give me a clearer understanding of the inadequacy that I felt.  There was no time to process or understand, much less critique this propaganda; the images just burrowed into my budding identity.  And then there was the audio component, worming its way into my emerging self with catchy tunes and rhyming lyrics.  Although, I guess I was doing some questioning of the Bacharach & David tune quoted above… curlend I never could understand why a woman would have her hair in curlers at the end of the day…