Shame, Addiction, Causation and Deconstruction

I had intended to write about the evolution of Home Economics, sharing my own thoughts and experiences, interlaced with the methods used by the food industrial complex to subvert the Home Ec ‘movement’, if it could be called that.

Instead I have returned to the intention I stated here, on day one of NaBloPoMo.  My desire (need?) to bring together, for myself and hopefully others, the facts and ideas that have been gathering in my thoughts.  As I wrote on November first, “… [I am exploring] the personal, political and social roots of shame re: body size… de-constructing shame:  it’s not too late… [the] musings of a 60+ woman of size who [has come to] believe that shedding shame is essential to enjoying the remainder of my life.”

Personal:  canta
Now that my parents are gone, I can more freely state (suspecting that it may still evoke denial &/or dismay in my siblings) that it was in my childhood home that I was first made to feel shamed and unworthy.

As a child I was barely chubby.  At age eight, I was about 5 pounds over the ideal weight listed on insurance charts. This was in the days before BMI;  why was there an ‘ideal weight’ for an eight-year-old on an insurance chart?  I don’t get that.  Was there really?  Or was it what the family doctor said to explain putting me on a restrictive, punishing diet?  The rotund doctor, my parents (& grandparents)  shamed me for the next ten years.  My family insisted it was just teasing, but the resulting feelings were/are shame.

During those ten years a sister was born with Downs, and died at age one.  My older sister ran away, came home pregnant and went off to a ‘Home for Unwed Mothers’.   The baby was placed for adoption.  I mention these facts to show that my home life was fairly tumultuous and dysfunctional during this time.  The scary thing, when I look back, is that the adults remained absolutely fixated on controlling my eating.  I’m not going to share all those unpleasant details here.

Here are a couple of quotes from Brene Brown (The Gifts of Imperfection, 2010) that have helped me make sense of the agony of those years, and the years since.

She writes:
Shame is… ‘the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging…’

‘We are biologically, cognitively, physically and spiritually wired to love, be loved and to belong.  When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to.  We break.  We fall apart.  We numb. [addiction] We ache…’
‘Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal… damage the roots from which love grows,’
(pp. 26)

That’s what I’ve been attempting to piece together here over the past few weeks.  Frankly, it’s a bit overwhelming, trying to accurately capture the culpability of the Packaged & Processed Food Industrial Complex – including the advertising business, agribusiness, governmental non-action due to intense lobbying by the PPFIC, the pharmaceuticals industry & the ‘weight-loss’ industry – to name a few elements.  There is so much more to say about these issues and the Pushers of salt, sugar & fat.

This is where stigma, sexism and addiction come into the picture, for me.  The concepts inherent in social psychology, social anthropology, social class and socialization itself seem to weave back and forth, throughout this complex life experience that I am trying to de-construct.

A note about the way I cite the page numbers or websites/articles from which I have posted quotations… two reasons.  One is to give explicit credit to the authors, while documenting the source of my fact-oids and possibly encouraging you to read more.  The second reason is so that I can retrace my own steps and return to these sources.

Betty C, part II

images-3 So, Betty was an imaginary friend.  Or imaginary neighbor or aunt for a child like me.  I’ll admit, I’ve never really understood the psychological interpretation of the need for an imaginary friend… something about not feeling alone?  However the marketing necessity of BC’s creation by one of the food industry giants is crystal clear. They needed Betty to sell their products and their ideas.

Why did the women of the 1950’s respond so strongly to Betty?  Were they feeling lonely?  To some extent, I think that was true.  The young couples who married right after WWII (and who produced the ‘baby boom’) moved to the suburbs by the millions. [Pause to NOTE, as Laura Shapiro does, my thoughts are relevant primarily to the white, upwardly mobile working class/middle class to which my family belonged.]

imagesMoving to the suburbs was part of the American Dream, but doing so often contributed to the break down of the centuries-old chain of cooking knowledge.  For many women, their mothers, grandmothers and aunts no longer shared the kitchen, as had been the norm.  In a few fortunate families, this dissolution did not occur.  I grew up with friends who learned to cook from their moms and g’moms.  Some of those moms also taught me a thing or two…and I thank them to this day.

A few years ago, I began interviewing people about their Food Life Stories.  In fact, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, that was an early phase of the circle that brings me to this post today.  I am reminded of one woman who shared this bit of advice from her 1950’s mom:  “Never get good at something you don’t like to do, like cooking, because then you will be stuck doing it.”  This woman hated to cook.  Her daughter, now a mother of three, struggles to find any pleasure in cooking for her family.

My mother’s mother virtually never cooked; which she could get away with because her husband traveled for work and my mother was an only child.  In fact, I am quite certain that my Nanna was an early and enthusiastic embracer of prepared foods, when she didn’t eat out or hire someone to cook for her.  images-1

So, did the housewives who turned to Betty Crocker have nowhere else to turn?  Not really.  Betty and her ilk were easy to access, but there were other sources…

I’m talking about Home Economics.  I’ve been doing a little research about the evolution of Home Ec in public schools.  If you took Home Ec classes in junior high or high school, I would love to hear from you about your experiences and memories.  Thanks.