“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

 

 

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…

Defining shame

from Shame, by Gershen Kaufman.

“To feel shame is to feel seen in a painfully diminished sense.  The self feels exposed… to anyone… present.  It is this sudden, unexpected feeling of exposure and accompanying self-consciousness that characterizes the essential nature of the affect of shame.  Contained in the experience of shame is the piercing awareness of ourselves as fundamentally deficient in some vital way, as a human being.”     

In this country, we are inundated daily by weight-loss diet suggestions, from every media source and of course, ‘well-meaning’ friends, family and strangers.  Sometimes I can tune them out angrily and sometimes I am lured by the promises.  Why?  I know the answer and it’s the reason why the diet biz is so profitable.  We want to look and feel the way that we are told we should be.  Vicious cycle.

The above quote includes a word that keeps appearing as I study shame:  deficient.  As in, not efficient?  A guess.  Even if that were the word’s root, that’s not how the word is heard and used, not the familiar connotation.  I think ‘deficient’ is pretty clear:  less than.    Worth less.  Oh… worth less, two words and the combination word:   worthless.  Eww.

Deficient: not having enough of a specified quality, insufficient or inadequate; lacking, limited; defective, faulty, flawed, imperfect, inferior, substandard, second-rate)

So, is it primarily about appearance?  Well, its certainly about judgement, the belief that one thing, in this case, one person is of greater value than another.  Is this not the foundation of racism, as well as sexism/patriarchy, class-ism or any form of bigotry?  One person or type of person is considered to be worth more, is more valuable than another.  Without going into particulars, I will simply state that the messages I took in as a young woman led me to believe that I was deficient.  I will note that I do not generally feel this way anymore, b u t… the shreds are still there, tenacious.

Like the shreds of a plastic bag that cling to the twigs of the maple tree outside my window.  It has been at least two or three years since a white plastic grocery bag first caught in the upper branches.  That shredded bag, or now, just shreds of a bag, is symbolic.  Scouring winds and weather have reduced the size and presumably the strength of the plastic bag, but it remains.  In fact, I would not be surprised if some tree bark has grown over a bit of the bag.  Trees do that.  If something is there long enough, it’s claimed.  It becomes part of the plant/tree.

So, following this metaphor, these crappy, shredded, negative beliefs about my self have grown into my body, in ways both literal and figurative.  They cannot be willed away, wished away or even with the strongest intention – hurricane force winds – eradicated.    The image has its limits.  For now, I am engaged in remembering, seeing, naming and source-seeking.  Without these steps, I don’t think I can lose the shame.  It must be seen, named and sourced.

DeConSha

DeConstructingShame is the name of the game.  Name of the blog, name of the job.  And you know what?  It’s hard work.  Picture a hard-hatted woman (yes, there is a hard head under the hard-hat), wearing overalls and work gloves.  Digging into a moldy, smelly, rotting foundation; taking it apart brick-by-brick. Bricks

The de-‘construction site’ metaphor may not be a perfect description, but I’m going with it for now.  Because shame has to have sources, doesn’t it?  The supplies come from lumber yards, cement mixers, plumbing, electrical and hardware supply warehouses.  The shame messages were passed along, almost slyly, unobtrusively, ubiquitously, by my grandparent’s and parent’s generations, and updated, (essentially unchanged) by Seventeen Magazine and it’s media cohort.

In my daily writing on DeConSha, I’ve been exploring the impossible task of achieving adolescence in the late 1960’s, where fitting in & looking good (the requirements haven’t changed much for the teens of today) inevitably led to sexual harassment and shame.  Gotcha comin’ and goin’, I say.  But nobody said that to me, to us, then.  We were displayed in our mini-skirts and it was open season for boys and men to evaluate us.  To follow the hunting metaphor, they took pot-shots at us.  My grandfather, my father, my Geometry teacher and every boy or man seemed to feel confidently superior in their maleness and comfortably entitled to rate, berate, mock or praise us.

Without a language to understand this phenomenon, without a sense of worthiness and pride, other than attractiveness to males, where could/did I go in my confusion?  If I failed to please, or if I received ‘unwanted attention’, either way, it was my fault, I was to blame and the shame of it all settled into my being.  Having been thoroughly primed, as a child, to accept responsibility for any short-comings, the searing moments of embarrassment that clustered in those years still sting.

So, I’m digging them out.  Threw away the work gloves.  Bare hands are the only way I know to do this.  Scraped raw knuckles, dry, cracking cuticles, fingernails that never were a proper feminine accoutrement… Every day I get up and I dig in the slime of the shame and although it seems endless, I choose, I must choose, to believe that it is not.

Two other notes:
Someone showed me the recently released Special K (Kellogg’s) youtube video called ‘Shhhhut Down Fat Talk’.  Don’t know what I think about it… special-k-Fat-Talk-1

As a large woman I truly detest fat talk and it is everywhere.  But I have some uneasy feelings about a member of the PPFIC (Packaged & Processed Food Industrial Complex) trotting out this campaign.  Of course, they have the money to do the research, set up a fake store and make the video.  Would love to hear what you think…

My second note is in the “Come on, who wrote that title?” category.  In the March 2014 issue of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology there will be an article entitled “The Ironic Effects of Weight Stigma”, based on studies done at UC Santa Barbara.  Of course I haven’t read the article, so I could be over-reacting (who me?)  Somehow ironic is not the word that seems most appropriate when talking about the effects of weight stigma.  Suppose I could be glad that research is happening at all.  Same with the Kellogg’s video.

Shame’s antonym

My grapefruit drawing:  gfruit

A friend forwarded a link to me, from the internet; a response to a blogger who was banned from Facebook for “fat shaming”.  I’ll put the link at the bottom of this post, in case you want to check out the original post and the responses.  I thank the sender and at the same time, I grow weary of the bashing, shaming, blaming cycle.  What struck me about the article was when author Dodai Stewart writes: “PRIDE — defined by Merriam-Webster as ‘a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people.’ ”

Oh.  Really?  Well, knock me over with a feather.  Self respect?  Deserve respect?

Not that I didn’t believe her, but I had to do a little research on my own, because I was taught that PRIDE IS BAD, bad, bad.  As in, ‘Pride goeth before a fall’.  Pride is a shameful thing, dangerous and a terrible thing to feel or own.  Can you imagine my surprise when I saw her definition?  Are you putting this together?  I had been taught that self respect and believing that I deserved to be respected by others was wrong.  What?

One fact that surfaced in my brief exploration of the word:  “In Christianity, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.”  Sins!  Not that my parents were religious, but a repressive, WASP-y perspective was in full control of family values.  The sins, btw, are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.  Pride has been more accurately translated – from ancient Greek to Latin to English – as ‘hubris’, meaning arrogance.  Translation like a children’s game of ‘telephone’.  ‘Hubris’ being a less common word, ‘pride’ is put on the list…

Here are a few other definitions from the online M-W Dictionary/Thesaurus about PRIDE:  “self-esteem … honor … self-worth, self-regard … consciousness of one’s own dignity … If you take pride in yourself or your accomplishments, it means that you believe in your own worth…”

“ANTONYM: shame.”

“With a positive connotation, pride… is a product of praise, independent self-reflection, or a fulfilled feeling of belonging. Philosophers and social psychologists have noted that pride is a complex secondary emotion which requires the development of a sense of self and the mastery of relevant conceptual distinctions (e.g., that pride is distinct from happiness and joy) through language-based interaction with others.”  (Source)

A number of these concepts (self-esteem, dignity, self-respect, self-worth, feeling of belonging, sense of self) have been a regular part of this blog posting month; they are central to the work I am doing.  PRIDE can be considered not just the Antonym of shame, but the Antidote to shame.  Honestly, I think it will take a long time and a lot of practice on my part to be able to write or say that I am proud of something that I have done, without expecting the sky to fall (and crush shameful me.)  However, doing so, practicing this paradigm shift is clearly critical to my efforts to de-construct shame.

Link to article about woman banned from FB for fat shaming.

Bad timing

At 6:15 this morning, while still in bed, I started laughing.  Nice way to start the day; albeit feeling a little nutty, since I was laughing aloud at my own silent thoughts.  I don’t think that I can translate my train of thoughts in a way to make anyone else laugh, but I will try to explain some of the train.

Since taking up this NaBloPoMo self-challenge, I find myself, not surprisingly, thinking about what I’ve written (or what I am going to write.)  The phrase I used a couple of days ago, that I was “barely chubby” at age eight, echoed in my mind. Then I remembered something that I learned when my daughter was growing up.  Basically it is that children grow in more or less alternating cycles of width and height.

It’s a generalization, of course, but think about it, if you can picture a young child you know or have known.  One day they are roly-poly little babies, then they seem to stretch out as they become toddlers.  The waves of growth continue; as a preteen, there’s often some chunkiness going on, and then ‘phtt‘, growth spurt.  Interesting that the expression ‘growth spurt’ is used almost exclusively for height spurts.

Okay, before I get lost in my ramble, I’ll go back to my 6:00 AM thought.  It wasn’t that I was chubby, I was actually in a normal growth stage.  So it wasn’t my weight that triggered the over-reaction of parents & doctor; it was my body type!  Like I said, you may not be able to get the laugh here, but what cracked me up was thinking of the supermodel of the 1960’s:  Twiggy.  twig

That’s when I thought, ‘bad timing’, as in, what an unfortunate time to be a prepubescent girl.  My parental units were frightened, ashamed & concerned about my size, and it was completely unnecessary.  If only they could have waited a bit & let me grow normally.

There are other elements to the ‘bad timing’ idea, of course.   I think I’ll skip the factors that were most specific to my family, although the self-loathing of my mother and the mysogynistic attitude of my father (both culturally-reinforced) were certainly powerful.  Not to mention the overt sexism of Dr P, who told me , straight out, that “boys would not be interested in [me] because of [my] weight…”. Well, to a young person, a doctor was an unquestioned authority figure.  He must know, right?

His biases apparently overrode any knowledge of the medical fact that bodies change frequently as children grow.  But, perhaps most un-luckily for me, he was unaware of (or ignored?) the fact that putting someone on a dramatically low calorie diet (especially a child, for heavens sake!) wreaks havoc with their metabolism.  The now-prevalent understanding that ‘starvation‘ diets alter the metabolic set-point of an individual, was perhaps not yet common knowledge.  When the body registers caloric deprivation, it goes into crisis mode:  “Emergency!  Starvation risk!  Stockpile calories for energy!  Store Fat!

I have previously noted another ‘bad timing‘ element for me; that I was born at the same time that the PPFIC was taking off, big time.  [I’m really having fun with my acronym:  Packaged, Processed Food Industrial Complex.]  The exhilarating explosion of scientific research, post WWII, was harnessed by the PPFIC to create and utilize more versions of the big three:  salt, sugar and fat.

Cheaper and more addictive foods = more heavy users = way more profit.

Okay, so I’ve come back again to Pushers and Addiction.  I’ll close with this, from The American Society of Addiction Medicine.  Lots of intriguing language here, to be discussed another day.  For now, remember the Oreo cookie study...

“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.
Genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction. Environmental factors interact with the person’s biology and affect the extent to which genetic factors exert their influence. Resiliencies the individual acquires (through parenting or later life experiences) can affect the extent to which genetic predispositions lead to the behavioral and other manifestations of addiction. Culture also plays a role in how addiction becomes actualized in persons with biological vulnerabilities to the development of addiction.”