We Are Enough: A Manifesto from Advertising

Oh, you know, just casually writing manifestos for class. #Ilovemymajor #learningtofightthesystem

 

Advertising is something that can no longer be avoided in this society. Images, slogans, and logos are branded onto practically every inch of the space around us. Television, radio, and the internet cannot be navigated without avoiding advertisements. For most people, advertising is simply part of daily life. It has become a routine part of the drive to work, the process of checking our e-mail, the pens that we write on. Almost everything in our lives is trying to sell us a product.
We Are Sold an Alternate Perception of Reality
Advertisements do not accurately portray the world around us. They predominantly feature young, white, able-bodied, slim, heterosexual, and attractive people. They emphasize stereotypes and make generalizations, including common concepts of masculinity and femininity, race, and wealth. This both reflects and reinforces the many standards that we still have in modern society. They manipulate images. They photoshop pictures of women down to disproportionate sizes, they erase all “blemishes” including freckles and pores, they lighten the skin tones of models. They tend to show us only the happy, joyful parts of life that we unrealistically want to experience at all times (and if they are showing us the distressing parts of life, chances are they’re also showing us that buying their product will cause us to be happy again). They are carefully constructed to play off of our emotions, to make us feel a certain way about their product, to convince us to buy something.
We Internalize These Messages
However, after being bombarded with these images thousands of times per day, people have begun to internalize them. We now expect ourselves to meet these flawless and unrealistic definitions of beauty. We now compare our belongings with the belongings of those around us, attempting to see if we “match up” to them. We continue playing the certain roles in life that have been given to us by many factors, but are heavily perpetuated by advertising. For example, the concept that women are in charge of the domestic sphere of life. This idea was not given to us by advertising, but advertising continues to perpetuate this stereotype by only showing women performing household tasks and only appealing to women regarding topics such as childcare (think “choosy moms choose Jiff”).

We buy into the advertisements that shame us or make us feel bad about ourselves. As a culture, when we see a commercial for a diet product, we don’t stop and think about the unrealistic beauty standards that have been placed upon us, or the fact that 95% of dieters regain at least all of the weight that they have lost within 5 years. We don’t think stop and think about the shaming tactics that this advertisement is using, the fact that these advertisements are essentially telling us that it is wrong to be fat, that you are not good enough if you are fat. Perhaps the advertisement is indicating that one cannot have happiness or confidence unless they lose those last ten pounds. We don’t stop and consider that maybe this isn’t true, that maybe the thousands of carefully constructed images and commercials that tell us this, are simply trying to get us to buy their product. Instead, we view these advertisements and agree with them, we think to ourselves “yes, I will be happy if I lose those last ten pounds” and we go out and buy the product.

Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that not only do we internalize the messages we are sent, but we have become immune to the existence of advertising at all. We have been bombarded with so many advertisements that these kinds of images have become normalized. We think nothing of being sold products thousands of times per day. As a result, we have lost the ability to critically look at these advertisements as something intended to sell us something. We view them as normal and routine.
Competition Feeds the Cycle
We weren’t born thinking that we aren’t good enough as we are. We weren’t born craving flawless skin, plasma screen televisions, and a way to prove to the neighbors that we make more money than they do. All of this was taught to us throughout our lifetimes, now at increasingly earlier and earlier ages. Advertising isn’t the only factor in this complicated and debilitating equation, but it is teaching us to crave and to be unsatisfied. It is carefully calculated to sell us a product, to make a profit off of us, regardless of whether we need or can afford that product. In order to make this profit, companies often manipulate us into craving their items. They use psychological pressure and play off of our often preexisting fears and insecurities; our fears of wanting to match up in comparison to those around us.

We now live in a world obsessed with competition, obsessed with proving ourselves to others. What better fear is there for a company to feed off of when trying to convince you to buy a product? Advertising quickly and easily fuels these fears by reassuring us that we will be good enough as long as we work for it, as long as we put money and effort into it, as long as we meet a set of ridiculous standards that these companies can (coincidentally) provide us with the materials to meet.
Making Change

  • We should be able to determine for ourselves what we do and don’t want, without the pressure from the companies selling us products. We are capable of realizing on our own the things that we need.
  • We should be able to determine for ourselves the standards that make us “good enough” and “worthy.” We should be able to realize for ourselves that we are worthy even if we don’t have a fancy car, a pore free face, or the latest style of jeans. Worth is independent of all of these outside factors.
  • We should be able to view an advertisement and critically deconstruct it. To look at the advertisement and acknowledge the messages that it is sending us, decide for ourselves whether or not those messages are true or whether we are just being told that they are true.
  • We should be shown actual representations of reality. Advertisements should not reflect some fantasy world where everyone has unlimited wealth, the “ideal” American family, and 7% body fat.
  • We should be considered capable of much more than simply being a mass of people that can be manipulated into providing a company with an income. We are capable of much more than that; we just have to take back the ability to do more.

Advertising isn’t the only part of this quest for perfection and competition that fuels us and makes the problem worse. Altering (or even erasing) advertising will not make our need to prove ourselves worthy go away. There are many more factors within this culture that continue to perpetuate that need. But taking a look at the advertising around us is a good start. Completely eradicating advertising in a capitalistic society is most likely not realistic, but if we, as consumers, work towards learning to critically view the media and advertisers work to present us with more appropriate views of reality and with less manipulation, this culture can begin to be free from the manipulation to buy things, the pressure to be perfect, and the overwhelming message that we aren’t enough.

Let’s talk about the beauty industry

Interested in some basic statistics on how much money and business the beauty industry makes? Aw yea, you are.

Why exactly are we buying all this stuff?

  • The average US resident is exposed to almost 5,000 advertising messages each day.
  • A study in 1992 (so it’s outdated and very possibly much worse now, sorry I can’t find anything more recent) found that 1 out of every 3.8 television commercials sends some kind of “attractiveness message” commenting on what is/is not attractive
  • The purpose of beauty advertisements is only to convince you to buy a product. Because of this, advertisers will often play on your emotions. They’ll use phrases like this 

oh, that’s lovely

They’ll publish an ad that they know will only make you feel bad about your body. Something like this

another keeper

You might feel bad, but that will ensure that you buy their product. They’ll emphasize looks and beauty over everything else. They’ll photoshop  unrealistic images and tell you that anyone can look like that.

Oh don’t worry, it isn’t just advertisements. Companies are selling our kids crap like this, and this, and this, and this. What a terrible childhood. Also, messages about beauty are fucking everywhere. In advertisements, in movies, in television, in books. The beautiful princess marries the beautiful prince and they live happily ever after. The evil stepmother is ugly. The unpopular girl becomes popular when she gets a makeover. Even when they don’t outright say things like that, they subtly slip it in there. The successful, happy, popular people in media always seem to fit our standards of beauty. Next time you watch television or a movie, pay attention to how the villain/annoying character/outcast is portrayed. More often than not you’ll find that they’re the ones that don’t fit standards of beauty while the “popular people” always do. And we internalize all of this shit.

 

Some things that beauty product marketers often try to tell you that probs aren’t exactly 100% true.

  • Our product WILL fix this. Lots of companies that cite research backing up their product have either sponsored the researchers or they use their own researchers. Sound biased? It probably is. They also sometimes take the studies they have done on animals and extrapolate them to humans. Because that’s how science works. Human=sad bunny. Beauty companies spend only 2-3% of their sales on research and development of products, compared to the 20-25% that they spend on advertising. 
  • Anyone can do it. We see this ALL the time with weight loss advertisements. It’s also extremely common with things such as makeover shows. And this king of advertising is a problem. It results in shaming and blaming people that don’t fit societal standards of beauty. It creates this false idea that anyone can change anything about their body if they just have enough willpower. Advertisements tell us that everyone is perfectly capable of fitting into the mold of what is considered beautiful, why aren’t they doing it? Oh, obviously it’s because they’re lazy/are a slob/don’t care about themselves/don’t care about others/etc. We question why people aren’t taking the time to fit our idea of what beautiful is, because they should be. Anyone can do it.
  • It’s not about changing how you look; it’s about changing how you feel about yourself. It’s about gaining self confidence. This one is all the rage right now, especially since so many people are promoting self-confidence. Advertisers are just disguising their products under this veil of “it’s about confidence.” Sure, you can have confidence, as long as you still buy their product. I personally really think that our problems with body image are often just symptoms of bigger problems with ourselves. We aren’t confident and self-loving so we try to have the body/car/job/insert whatever you want here that we’re “supposed to have.” If you don’t have confidence in the body you have now, you aren’t going to have real confidence in a different, more socially acceptable body. Meeting their standards of beauty isn’t the same as having confidence. Sure, you’ll feel better because you’re fitting their narrow standards, but that isn’t the same as having confidence. That “confidence” is based entirely on outside sources, rather than coming from within. And when you’re letting other people determine how confident you can be, you’re letting them be in charge of when that confidence disappears. These ads create the idea that people “earn” confidence. That you can feel good about yourself because you’re doing what they want you to do, because you earned it. People that don’t meet the narrow standard of beauty are just as deserving of experiencing confidence and self-love. Those are not privileges that we have to “earn” by changing ourselves. You have the right to love yourself no matter what. Bottom line: you can’t trust the people selling you beauty products to tell you how to gain confidence. As a side note, this is kind of like the story about the girl that was bullied because of her ears and received free plastic surgery to “fix” her flaws. She didn’t need to “fix” herself. Someone needed to tell those bullies to stop being assholes.

I have news for you. Changing whatever part of your body that doesn’t meet society’s standards doesn’t fix the problem for several reasons (I love bulleted lists!)

  • Self-acceptance doesn’t sell anything. If you love yourself just the way that you are, and don’t try to change everything, these big companies aren’t making any money off of you. And they can’t have that, can they? Companies are just going to keep making up things that are wrong with our bodies in order to get us to spend money. You could change everything about your body to meet the expectations that are given to us, and someone would just come up with something new that was wrong. And the moment you think you’re getting close to finishing up that checklist of beauty standards, the tables will turn. Pale skin will be back in right after you get that tan, curves will be in just after you lose those last few pounds. It will never end. This is about money.
  • YOU’RE just going to keep making up things that are wrong with your body. As soon as you “fix” one thing, you’ll find something else that you don’t like. There is no possible way to be satisfied in this quest for perfection because it is not realistic and it will not happen. This isn’t about not liking one part of your body, this is about a bigger issue with self confidence and self-love. Also, 33% of potential nose job patients have moderate to severe symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. I mean obviously I can’t speak for them, but I’m fairly confident that a nose job did not make their mental illness go away overnight.
  • It perpetuates the idea that there is an ideal standard of beauty and it is ok to expect everyone to meet that standard. When we mold ourselves to fit what other people want us to be, we are giving them permission to mold others into what they want them to be. We are supporting the culture of telling people what to be and how to look and how to act. We are supporting ostracizing certain people. We are supporting telling people to change themselves. And if this culture keeps on going, they’re just going to throw more and more ideals for us to meet and we’re never going to be happy with ourselves.

The bottom line is that it is not your job to change your body so that people will respect you. People should be respecting you regardless of what you look like. They should be respecting you simply because you are a being and a soul and that is enough to make you completely deserving of love and respect, just like every other being out there.

Why No One Should Diet. Ever.

What exactly is the big deal with dieting? People are just trying to be healthier right? Obesity is such a problem in this country. Most people need to lose some weight to be healthy. By dieting they’re just learning to eat healthier foods right?

I overheard a coworker the other day talking about her diet. The girl she was talking to commented “I don’t know why you’re always on a diet. You look fine.” She immediately responded with “oh, you know, I’m just trying to be healthy.” What the fuck? You do not have to be on a diet to be healthy! Those two words are not synonymous.

What the Dieting Industry Doesn’t Tell You

“But I’m not on a fad diet like a juice fast or a master cleanse. I’m on a HEALTHY diet like Weight Watchers or Atkins or Paleo or whatever the fuck they’re doing these days.”

  • Is it something that you want to keep doing for the rest of your life? Can you imagine yourself being on this diet forever and being completely content?
  • Does it label foods as “good” and “bad” or make entire categories of food “off limits” or “forbidden?” We should not be afraid of any type of food. There is no reason to be afraid of cake or carbohydrates or dairy or whatever. ALL food has a place in a healthy diet. You can’t eat only Doritos, candy, and doughnuts all the time, but you also can’t eat only grilled chicken, vegetables, and brown rice all the time. If you’re actually eating a healthy, balanced diet, you won’t feel deprived of anything. The key is moderation, nothing to extremes.
  • Are you eating REAL, nutritious food, or are you eating their food?
  • Are you responding you your hunger cues or are you following their meal plan? Are you listening to your body, eating when you’re hungry, and stopping when you’re full? Or are you following their menu/points/meal plan/food choices/etc.
  • If for some crazy reason this diet was suddenly taken away from you would you still know how to choose foods and feed yourself?

“But my doctor supports it”

Yea, a doctor also supported this crazy ass shitand thisand thisand this.

Get my point? I’m not saying don’t ever trust your doctor again. I’m just saying that maybe they’re not so immune to some of the crazy advertising out there. Maybe they’ve also been a little tricked by this whole dieting lie. I’ve heard horror stories about parents of anorexics begging their doctors for help and the only responses they get are along the lines of “she looks great! She should be a model” and “she still has some chub, she’s fine!” I’m not kidding. This is unfortunately uncommon.

 

And we’re just starting a cycle of it. People are learning it young and they’re just being set up to do this for the rest of their lives.

We are teaching LITTLE KIDS that they have to diet, that dieting is good, they’re learning at an early age to associate dieting with health. And that’s going to be really hard for them to unlearn later in life, especially when they’re still going to be sent all of these incorrect messages. These innocent little kids, just going around doing kid stuff, are being told that they aren’t good enough. And they grow up continuing to think that they aren’t good enough, and they accidently teach others that they aren’t good enough either. This cycle needs to stop somewhere because if those statistics don’t make you just plain sad then nothing will.

This obsession with dieting is not really about health, it’s about aesthetics. It’s about using our bodies as proof that we are good enough and worthy. It’s about making money off of the insecurities of others. All it’s doing is making people feel bad about themselves. We’re falsely associating thinness with health and that isn’t correct. Studies have shown that it is the behaviors that correlate with health, rather than weight. You can be both perfectly fat and perfectly healthy. Instead of wasting our time dieting to lose weight we need to focus on making lifestyle changes to be healthy. And we need to respect that our bodies do know what’s best for them. We need to get rid of this idea that healthy also fits the current social standard of beauty. “Healthy” and “diet” are not synonymous.

 

Also, this is really beautiful.

All Body-Snarking is Bad Body-Snarking

I keep seeing a lot of body-snarking coming from websites promoting more realistic images of women. People that, like me, are tired of seeing only one standard of beauty. Pinterest seems to be an excellent source of body snarking. All this people pin their little thinspiration pins and some people comment on them “eww she needs to eat a sandwich” or “this is disgusting” and then come the comments like “you’re just jealous because you’re fat” and “obesity is a problem in this country” and thus begins the cycle of anger and body hate. The thinspo people become more defensive and angry because they’re being told that curvy people can love their bodies but skinny people are ugly.

So while we’re sitting here yelling at each other over what is better than what, so many people are still hating their bodies, so many people are hurting their bodies by trying to change them, and these big huge beauty companies are making a profit off of those people that want to change their bodies.

A few problems I have found

Or the phrase “real women have curves.” No. Some do. Some don’t. There are probably some men that have curves. Whatever.  REAL women come in a variety of shapes and sizes and they don’t look a certain way.

These look pretty similar to some of the ads that I see today, ads that I hate seeing because they make me think “oh I CAN’T be fat. Fat is bad.” But these older ads aren’t ok either; they do the exact same thing just with a different body type. They are still making someone feel bad about their body

This is just like a pendulum that we’re swinging back and forth. We used to accept larger bodies and criticize smaller ones; small people were made fun of targeted as unattractive. Then the pendulum swung to the other extreme where we now credit small bodies as being attractive and large ones as unattractive. But swinging back to the other side and bashing smaller bodies will not solve this problem and the cycle is just going to continue as long as we continue to not expand our definition of beauty and as long as there are people that can make money off of our insecurities and prejudices.

And I know the intentions are great-people are tired of being told to hate their bodies and they’re starting to fight back against the messages telling us that we have to be thin. But don’t bash others in the process of making yourself feel better.

I understand that right now the push has to be for seeing larger bodies in media and being told that it’s ok to have a larger body, but if we push for only larger bodies then we’re just waiting for this to happen again.

I don’t have a problem with someone’s body looking a certain way, I love skinny bodies, I love fat bodies, I love in between bodies. I have a problem with being TOLD that we SHOULD look a certain way.

 

Magazines Need to Keep It Real

Today is the second day of Miss Representation’s Keep it Real Challenge, where people all over the country are urging magazine companies to print just ONE (only one) unretouched photo per magazine.

These images aren’t of real people anymore. But they’re presented as if they are. These magazines and diet ads tell us that we can look like these pictures if we buy their products, if we read their articles, if we just try a little bit harder. But the reality is that we can’t. All of this airbrushing and retouching is placing the standard of beauty WAY above our heads and setting children up with unrealistic expectations to reach.

I took a class on eating disorders my first year of college and we spent a while discussing the media. One interesting/horrifying thing that I learned and will never forget is that people completely make up some of the images of people in magazines. They take the eyes from one person, the lips from another, the hair from another, etc. and smash them together to make this “perfect person” that never even existed in the first place! I know this video is really cliché at this point, but I think it does a really good job of showing all of the work that goes into every single image that we are shown. Not only is this weird but it is also lying to all of us! If I buy this skin cream it will make me look like this person that isn’t actually even real? That’s lying.

And there’s no way to avoid these images. Trust me, if I could, I would never look at a photoshopped picture again. But they’re everywhere. I can’t go to any store in the country without magazine covers glaring headlines at me like “Look perfect this summer!” and images of women without pores, freckles, blemishes, or body fat. And that’s not fair. We’re being bombarded with these images of what people say we SHOULD look like and no images of what real people look like.

And the most disgusting thing I’ve seen yet? By far this.

She was in this magazine discussing her battle with an EATING DISORDER. And they felt the need to photoshop her body down to a smaller size. Please take a look at the rest of this article to see just a few of the crazy things that people are doing with photoshop (just click on the picture).

Maybe magazine companies are afraid that no one will buy magazines that have pictures of actual people in them. Or even worse, maybe people will catch on to just how unrealistic some of the photos that are used are. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. I don’t know and I can’t predict that. All I do know is that I am absolutely not buying magazines with photo shopped images and articles that tell me how to get the best bikini body and how to make guys want me. Looking at these magazines doesn’t make me feel good about myself at all, it only makes me feel worse. And I am NOT going to spend my life perpetuating this cycle of self hate that has been created. I have better things to spend my money on and I have better things to spend my time doing. So maybe these companies ARE afraid that they won’t sell as many magazines if they use unretouched photos of REAL people, but if they’re more concerned with making money than with helping people

These statistics might not be enough to motivate magazine companies to change the way that they are doing things, but they are definitely enough to motivate me to not buy magazines until something changes. I’m not going to live my life soaking up the message of self-hate that they are being presented to me and I’m also not going to teach those messages to others.

What Is Fat Talk And Why Does It Need To Stop?

There are so many different ways that fat talk exists and invades our lives and it is so engrained in our brains that most of the time we don’t even catch it. In her new book The Woman In The Mirror, Dr. Cynthia Bulik dedicates an entire chapter to discussing the different types of fat talk and what we can do to end them. This is definitely the most beautiful and comprehensive list of types of fat talk that I have ever seen, so I’m just going to kind of summarize what she says are the different types of fat talk and add a few of my own comments. All of the “names” for these types of fat talk are from Dr. Bulik and they’re pretty brilliant. I seriously recommend this book, it’s great.

Generic Fat Talk-This is your basic fat talk. It seriously just comes right out of our mouths without us even thinking about it.

  • Does this make me look fat?
  • I hate my hips/arms/legs/etc.
  • I need to lose weight
  • I’m fat
  • I shouldn’t be eating this cookie

Compliment-Fishing Fat Talk-The purpose of this fat talk is to get someone to compliment you. If you feel bad about your body, having someone reassure you about it is nice. Unfortunately it doesn’t last. We never seem to actually believe the compliments that we receive from compliment-fishing fat talk. It has no long lasting benefits and only perpetuates negative stereotypes about fat.

  • I look so fat in this swimsuit
  • My stomach is so huge
  • This outfit looks terrible on my figure

Comparative Fat Talk-this happens when we compare our bodies to other people’s bodies.

  • She’s so much thinner and prettier than I am
  • You think you’re fat? Look at me!
  • That outfit looks so much better on him than it does on me
  • You’re so healthy, eating just a salad, I should be doing that

Can’t-Take-a-Compliment Fat Talk-This happens when someone genuinely compliments someone and they just automatically negate their compliment. Maybe they don’t actually believe the compliment. Maybe they do kind of believe it but we’ve been taught to be humble and not accept compliments. Maybe they think that the person is just saying it to be polite.

  • Someone compliments you and you say something like
    • This outfit would look so much better if I was ten pounds lighter
    • Thank God for Spanx!
    • This outfit might look ok but my hair is a mess!

Competitive Fat Talk-this type of fat talk happens when people are sort of covertly competing with one another about their health/body size, incorrectly believing that a certain health/body type is better than another one.

  • Oh I would never eat that
  • I always exercise every single day
  • I don’t snack between meals/after dinner/whatever the fuck else you think is omg super healthy
  • Yea, I recently lost XX pounds

Silent Fat Talk-This often happens when we’re eating around other people and we want them to think highly of us.

  • Placing your order at a restaurant based on what the people around you are eating
  • Deliberately eating less/eating what you consider healthier/etc. than the people around you

Joking Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is meant to be a joke and is disguised as being harmless, but the reality is that these kinds of jokes are only perpetuating stereotypes and prejudices about size.

  • I hope he doesn’t sit next to us or else we won’t have any room
  • That scale will probably break if I step on it!
  • I hope she’ll be able to fit through that door

Stealth Fat Talk-Most people probably don’t realize that comments like these are actually hurtful. They’re super disguised comments and just kind of subtly imply that fat is bad and thin is good.

  • You look great! Have you lost weight? (Translation: you looked bad before or thinner looks better)
  • You must be spending lots of time at the gym (Translation: you looked really out of shape before)
  • This type of dress is really flattering on your figure (Translation: it makes you look thinner)
  • You’re so much healthier now! (Translation: Even though I’m completely wrong, I’m convinced that thin and healthy are interchangeable words)

Fat-Stigmatization Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is just broadly directed at fat people in general and really shows the prejudices and assumptions that we have about people based purely on their size (i.e. that they never exercise and eat too much).

  • Fat people should have to pay more for their food/clothing/etc.
  • Fat people should have to walk in a single file line so that everyone else can go around them
  • Fat people just need to exercise more
  • Why can’t they just have some self control?

Fat-Is-Ugly Fat Talk-This type of fat talk perpetuates the beauty standards that you cannot be both fat and attractive.

  • She could be so pretty
  • She has such a pretty face, it’s a shame she’s a little heavy
  • I need to lose weight so that I will look good
  • Clothes look better on skinny people
  • Please don’t ever let me leave the house if I get that big

Personalized, Disrespectful Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is targeted at specific people and is based on heir appearance

  • She does not need to be wearing that short skirt
  • Do you really need that ice cream?
  • That outfit does not look good on someone his size
  • Ew, I would never let myself go like she did
  • His new girlfriend is a complete fatass

Bullying Fat Talk-This is just what it sounds like: bullying people by insulting their size.

  • You’re a fat pig
  • I wouldn’t date someone as big as you
  • You’ll never get a job/date/make friends/be taken seriously if you look like that

I also want to add another category of fat talk that I think people really abuse and use to justify their prejudices against fat people.

But-Fat-Is-Unhealthy Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is disguised as having good intentions based on health. It’s the kind of stuff that was used in those Georgia ads.

  • I’m just worried about your health
  • She’s not going to live past 40 at the rate she’s going
  • I’m just waiting for him to have a heart attack
  • People will think I’m a bad parent if my daughter is fat
  • I just want to look healthy

I think there are definitely a lot of people that are genuinely concerned about someone’s weight because of the impact that it may have on their health. But unfortunately the reality is that most people are pretty prejudiced in their opinions of fat people. They automatically assume that fat people are unhealthier than thinner people. If you find yourself participating in any but-fat-is-unhealthy fat talk really take a look at why you’re saying these things. Is it genuinely based off of health reasons or is there a little bit of aesthetic reasoning behind the thoughts as well? If there isn’t, then really try to focus your thoughts on the behaviors, not the actual size of the person. Make sure that you differentiate between actually being healthy and what society deems as “looking healthy.” Do you say the same thing about thinner people with the same eating and exercise habits? If you don’t point out that someone that is of “healthy” weight and isn’t exercising should be exercising more then maybe you shouldn’t point out that an “overweight” person that isn’t exercising should be exercising more.

Also, even if you aren’t actually saying these things and you’re just thinking them to yourself, it still counts. And fat talk is bullying. Whether whoever is participating in fat talk is actively bullying a fat person or subconsciously bullying themself, it all counts as bullying and it really isn’t so awesome.

In order to destigmatize weight and size variety we have GOT to stop using fat talk. Fat talk only promotes the idea that certain sizes are better than others; it is no different from racist/sexist/ageist/ whatever comments. And when we participate in fat talk we not only keep ourselves doing it, but we’re now teaching younger and younger kids to do it too.

The first step is to get yourself to stop participating in fat talk. Try to start becoming aware of every time you catch yourself participating in any kind of fat talk, write it down if that helps. Once you get better at catching fat talk, correct yourself on it. Replace every fat talk comment with a positive comment. I’ve really gotten into the habit of telling myself something along the lines of “maybe my legs do have some cellulite. But who gives a fuck, I’m a person with a brain and an opinion and a voice and I am so much more than something as petty and stupid as what my body looks like. I want to do important things and help people and have a good life. Not sit here worrying about the size of my pants.” It’s long, but it’s working. It takes practice and time but I swear that it is possible. I used to be so bad about it and I have gotten so much better.

The next step is to create a fat talk free environment around you. Avoid people that are particularly bad about fat talking. Fucking call people out on this shit. Seriously. I mean, don’t be mean about it. Remember, we’ve been TAUGHT to do this, that this is right and ok. But just because we’ve been told that it is good doesn’t mean that it really is. Racism was totally legitimized for a pretty long time, that doesn’t make it ok. And don’t reinforce fat talk. Don’t buy into it. Don’t just go along with it because other people are doing it. Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right. And if it isn’t making you happy and it isn’t providing you with any kind of real benefits, then don’t keep doing it.

So why do we fat talk?

Sometimes because we’re insecure and if we point out our flaws then other people won’t point them out. Sometimes we do it so that we feel better about ourselves because we’re thinner than someone else. Unfortunately it often serves as a sort of “bonding,” something that so many people have in common is that they hate their bodies. But it doesn’t really do us any good to be comparing our bodies to other people because all bodies are different. Sure, maybe she IS thinner than you, but that doesn’t actually make her any prettier than you. If we stand up against those archetypal beauty standards and realize them as the lies and marketing strategies and shaming that they really are then we can begin to see past them, redefine them, and change them. If you keep believing them then you are seriously only doing what those companies and people in power WANT you to do so that they can keep profiting (whether through monetary gains or personal emotional “I’m better than you because I’m thinner” gains) off of you. We are being USED by these ridiculous beauty standards and we are being pitted against each other over absolutely stupid little stuff like whether brown hair or blonde hair is prettier. No one is going to win. We are being taught to not like anything about ourselves so that we will keep spending money on products and diets, so that some people can feel better about themselves for “looking better than others”

All of these beauty standards are seriously just about creating a hierarchy and making money. Some people feel like they have to establish dominance over others, whether they justify it as because of their race, the amount of money that they have, their level of education, their gender, whatever. Beauty standards are completely just another example of this. And people have just turned this process of making people feel bad about themselves into another way to make money.

The pressure to be perfect is purely for profit.

Let’s Move. Or Not.

I like Michelle Obama. I really do. I think she presents herself as a very intelligent, confident and compassionate woman. But I have some issues with her “Let’s Move” campaign to end childhood obesity. I think encouraging people to put a little more exercise in their life is mostly a good thing, I totally support increasing the access that everyone in the country has to fresh and healthy food. Really, I do. Her intentions are awesome, I’m sure. But there are a few problems.

1. It puts a really strong emphasis on weight loss.

Holy Jesus this is not an unreasonable concept. Its seriously common sense if you think about it. Health is related to behaviors, not just weight. It astounds me just how many people don’t understand this. I mean, I guess it makes sense since we keep being told “fat is bad. Fat is bad.” And we keep being shown these images of thin and told that “thin is healthy.” But it really isn’t that easy. Thin does not equal health and we need to stop teaching that. You can participate in healthy eating and exercise at an “above healthy” weight and still be perfectly healthy. You can be at a “healthy” weight and be eating only Doritos all day. But this program puts the emphasis on overweight and obese children. THEY are the problem, THEY need to change, THEY need to learn better habits. When THEIR weight is healthy, then the country will be saved from crisis. This is fat shaming and it is not ok. Nevermind all of the other unhealthy people with totally different body types. Despite the fact that they might have the exact same habits as an overweight person, society keeps perpetuating this idea that they are for some reason “better.” Keep blaming and shaming the overweight people because obviously they are the reason for all of the problems in America. And all fat people are lazy and eat junk all day, right? WRONG.

Focus on the eating/exercise habits and attitudes towards food/exercise that children have and let their weight do whatever it does then. This program is just feeding in to this “thin ideal” that this country has, telling us that thin is better, thin people are good and healthy people, fat people are lazy and unhealthy.

Also, 95% of people that lose weight gain it back. So really, why the emphasis on weight loss?

2. She went on “The Biggest Loser”

I have serious problems with this show. It features obese people competing to win money by losing weight. Also, they often tempt the contestants with prizes or things like phone calls home in exchange for not exercising or for eating cake or something. Really? I know I’m not the only one getting mixed signals here. They’re supposed to lose weight to win money, but they can talk to their family if they try to offset their weight loss…

Also, sorry, but when there is a quarter of a million dollars at stake here, do you really think people are going to stick with what is actually good for them rather than pushing themselves too hard. Terrible things have come out about this show. Contestants spend like six hours a day exercising and eat a pretty low calorie diet. It has been said that they manipulate filming to make it seem as though contestants have lost more weight. They use footage from two weeks time to represent a week. It sets this unrealistic expectation that people should be able to lose 10 pounds in a week, which is way beyond the maximum recommended weight loss rate of 2 pounds per week. Really. Read this interview. It only gets worse.

And this one, where a doctor admits that he counsels people against trying what the contestents are trying and contestants admit to dehydrating themselves to lose more weight.

When contestants enter the show, they sign a waiver that says “No warranty, representation or guarantee has been made as to the qualifications or credentials of the medical professionals [on the show].” Wait, what? You mean they’re doing all this crazy shit supposedly under medical supervision and it turns out that their medical supervision isn’t even legitimate? But it gets better. Contestants aren’t allowed to tell anyone about this because any unapproved interviews or comments result in fines up to a million dollars.

Also, Jillian Michaels, who is one of the trainers on the show, coined the phrase “unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going!” Don’t get me started on that one because that is NOT a healthy approach to exercise.

Seriously. Why is this show on it’s 13th season? It is entirely about money and competition. This show is not about helping people change their lives no matter how much they say it is. NBC has created a Biggest Loser diet that you can pay to participate in, various Biggest Loser supplements, they’ve made Biggest Loser themed cruise, and even Biggest Loser fitness resorts! But no way, this is about helping people.

And Michelle Obama went on this show to show support for it! I’m sure that her intentions were awesome, that she was trying to show praise for these people making lifestyle changes and exercising and cool stuff. But this is NOT the way to do it. This show does not promote healthy behaviors or realistic expectations of what bodies can do, and this should NOT be the model that she is recommending that everyone follow.

This is a super excellent but never actually published article about why Michelle Obama should not have gone on this show.

3. She doesn’t even begin to address the other end of the spectrum.

The prevalence of eating disorders has doubled since the 1960s and we are seeing eating disorders in children as young as 7 or 8. The number of hospitalizations for adolescents with eating disorders had risen 119% since 1999. Eating disorders are on the rise and they are not something to play around with.

A studyhas been recently published that researches the behaviors of children in schools that have recently started obesity prevention programs. Researchers found that 30% of the parents noticed worrisome behaviors such as over-exercising, inappropriate dieting, refusing meals, excessive worry about fat content, etc. Also, 7% of the children had been made to feel bad at school about their weight or what they ate.

And this makes sense. We’re already in a society that places so much emphasis on what we look like. Placing such a strong emphasis on obesity prevention without mentioning that the other end of the spectrum is just as bad is setting us up for disaster. Particularly when working with either very young children or especially emotionally vulnerable children (like, I don’t know, all middle schoolers?).  And when everyone around these children such as their school, their peers, their parents places such an importance on thinness, but maybe that just isn’t how this kid’s body is meant to be, what is that kid supposed to learn?

I’m not saying “tell everyone to be obese and quit exercising forever” but we don’t really want to be inadvertently pushing them to the other extreme. I went to a meeting where Cynthia Bulik, head of the UNC Eating Disorders Program, was speaking, and she said something to the effect of “we don’t want them to be decreasing obesity but increasing business for us. That isn’t good either.” We need some kind of medium. And if you’re on the topic of eating properly and talking about why it’s important to not eat too much, why not go ahead and talk about why it’s important to eat enough. Over-exercising is just as bad as under-exercising. Under-eating is just as bad as over-eating.

I’m not saying that everyone that is shown obesity prevention stuff is going to automatically have an eating disorder, but they might have already been genetically predisposed to develop an eating disorder and this might be enough to trigger someone. Eating disorders are complicated and involve a lot of factors. But this is definitely something that can be a contributing factor to eating disorders. There are SO MANY stories of people whose eating disorders started when they were told that they needed to lose some weight or they were made fun of because of their weight.

You don’t want to be telling kids that fruits and vegetables are so awesome and then find out a few months later that some kids are only eating fruits and vegetables.

Her intentions were awesome, I’m sure. Really, I am. They were just not totally done the best way that they could have been done.

 

Eating Disorder Lobbying

It’s been a really long time since I’ve written anything. Everything at school got so hectic with finals and moving out. But I did take the time to do something that was really awesome and empowering.

Last month I participated in the Eating Disorders Coalition Lobbying Day. I went with a friend up to Washington D.C. and we spent a Tuesday morning being trained on how to effectively lobby. We then spent the afternoon talking to the assistants of various House and Senate members, trying to get them to cosponsor the FREED Act and to sign on to a letter to Michelle Obama encouraging her to include eating disorders in her obesity intervention program.

Basically, the FREED Act pushes to increase research for eating disorders regarding prevalence, death rates, economic burden, etiology, treatments, etc. It also pushes to increase education, awareness, and prevention of eating disorders, particularly through schools. It also wants to make treatment accessible to everyone struggling with an eating disorder.

I haven’t heard back from anyone that my group spoke with regarding whether the would cosponsor the act, but several other groups did speak with people that agreed. I’m not sure what the people we spoke with will decide to do, but it felt amazing to actually be out supporting the cause, doing something, and using my voice.

I would totally recommend that you write your United States House of Representatives or Senate members and encourage them to cosponsor this act. One of the speakers at the briefing told this absolutely devastating story of how her daughter died of an eating disorder while waiting for their insurance company to allow her to receive treatment. Stories like these shouldn’t have to exist. We need more awareness and activism when it comes to eating disorders since they are so misunderstood.Image

A Few Incredibly False Things About Eating Disorders

1. You can tell that someone has an eating disorder by looking at them.

This is so false. Just no. Eating disorders come in ALL shapes and sizes. It is SO helpful to get rid of this idea that someone needs to be either completely emaciated or morbidly obese to have an eating disorder. When we take away this stigma we can help people before they get to either of these points. And the earlier an eating disorder is treated, the more likely the person is to fully recover from it. It also really makes people feel like they are not “good enough” at their eating disorder because their body doesn’t show it. I know that I have seriously struggled with this because no one knew that I had an eating disorder by looking at me. I always blamed myself  and only ended up making myself sicker by thinking that I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough.

Also, our view of what is “healthy” in this society is completely fucked up. We judge “healthy” as one body type that is still probably not a very realistic body type. Nonetheless, there are people that fall outside of this body type that are healthy, and there are people that fall within this body type that are unhealthy. We’ve been pretty desensitized to thinness/muscularity and only   assume that there is a problem when an absolute extreme is reached. And that needs to stop.

2. Eating disorders are a lifestyle choice.

So wrong. If I had chosen to have an eating disorder, by now I would have chosen to not have an eating disorder. People don’t choose to have OCD or strep throat, and this is the exact same    thing. I hate that eating disorders get this stigma as being chosen. Often, the beginnings of an eating disorder can be “choices” such as going on a diet or trying to lose a little bit of weight. But    if you explicitly asked someone if they wanted to have an eating disorder, no sane person would    say yes. Anyone that has experienced an eating disorder knows the struggles that come with it. They unfortunately get this stigma that they are just kind of like diets, and that is just not true.

3. Eating disorders only affect white, middle/upper class, teenage females.

No. Eating disorders do not discriminate. They affect men, and children, and older people, and people of color, and all socioeconomic statuses. ANYONE can have an eating disorder.

4.  People with eating disorders need to just “get over it.”

If it was something that we could just “get over,” many of us would. Unfortunately, recovery is something that takes a lot of work. You literally have to retrain your brain to think in a different way. You have to undo everything that your eating disorder, and a lot of society, has taught you. The average time of recovery is about 7 years. Give it some time.

5. Eating disorders are the result of a controlling mother.

This is like a seriously archaic concept of eating disorders and it really isn’t that relevant anymore. Sure, there are some people whose eating disorders are a result of a controlling mother, but everyone’s journey is completely different and started because of completely different reasons. You can’t extrapolate this reason to everyone.

6. People with eating disorders should “know better.”

Developing an eating disorder isn’t something that people do when they just don’t know how to  lose weight in a healthy way. That’s not how it works. Saying that someone should have “known better” than to develop an eating disorder is like saying someone should have “known better”  than to develop depression or a cold.  Also, there’s a genetic component to eating disorders. Many people were predisposed to be that way from birth, regardless of how smart they turned out to be.

7. ED-NOS just means that you aren’t “sick enough” to have a “real eating disorder.”

This one kills me. All eating disorders suck ass. An eating disorder is an eating disorder and they are all miserable. It’s not only about your habits/weight, but it’s really about the THOUGHTS that you have. This “hierarchy” of eating disorders that exists needs to go away. Unfortunately there is a serious level of competition within eating disordered people. Often there’s this need to “prove” that you are truly sick by being sicker than those around you. And this competition is getting us nowhere good.

8. Eating disorders are only about having bad body image.

This is kind of a weird subject because obviously eating disorders are about weight and food and how you look, right?

This is my personal view of it. Eating disorders have been around for a long, long time. Way before this “thin ideal” was ever a problem. I think that for those people, body image wasn’t really part of the issue. They happened to stumble upon the method of using food as a coping mechanism for whatever internal struggles they were having. Nowadays, I think that all of the body image problems that we have going on create like a little petri dish for eating disorders to develop. They’re still actually about something deeper, but the way that society is set up  introduces way more people to the concept of using food as a coping mechanism. The more people that we’re teaching to diet and abuse food, the more people we’re exposing to patterns of disordered eating and potentially eating disorders. Also, the more we are teaching people to dislike themselves and have those cognitive beliefs that go along with eating disorders. On the surface, eating disorders are about body image. That’s what people always assume eating disorders are about. But they’re really about something deeper than that, even if it’s really really really deep and you have to dig for a very long time. For me it was about this constant fear of not being good enough, in a nutshell. The way that society is now just provides an excellent cover of “bad body image” to mask what’s really going on.

If we get rid of all this body-shaming, bad body image creating crap will we still have problems with eating disorders? Absolutely. There are DEFINITELY still people for whom body image played no role in the development of their eating disorder. But I personally feel like promoting healthier coping mechanisms, rather than using food, will cause the levels of eating disorders, disordered eating, and bad body image in general, to decrease.

9. Anorexics never eat and bulimics throw up everything that they eat.

You don’t have to never eat to be anorexic; you just have to not eat enough. And you don’t even have to throw up at all to be bulimic. I wish people would realize this. You can purge calories by using laxatives/diuretics/diet pills, exercising, restricting, etc. Not JUST throwing up. And the main thing about bulimia is the binge/purge cycle. Just because you purge your binges doesn’t         mean you have to be purging everything else as well. You don’t have to be at this extreme spectrum of never eating/always exercising/puking up everything to still be really struggling.

10. Anorexics don’t eat anything except vegetables.

Everyone is different. They all have different “safe foods.” I have been in treatment with people that had no problem eating eggs or nuts, huge fear foods for me. I, on the other hand, relied on oatmeal as a particularly safe food, a food that scared a lot of people that I know. I’ve known people that hardly ever ate vegetables and I’ve known people that only ate candy. Just because someone has an eating disorder doesn’t mean you automatically know what they will/won’t eat.

11. When someone’s weight is back to “normal” weight they are “cured.”

I have had way too many people tell me that I must be doing better because I don’t look like I   have an eating disorder. I mean, I AM doing better, but I’m not completely done and it is SO frustrating to hear people say that. I want to shake them and yell at them that I’m still having trouble, I’m still sad, and I still need support. Just because I LOOK fine doesn’t mean that I AM fine. Just because my eating habits are becoming more normal doesn’t mean that my thoughts have caught up yet. This is a process.

12. You wish you had the “willpower” to have anorexia.

Seriously. I will kill the next person that I hear say this. No, you DON’T wish you had my willpower, and quite frankly, it pisses me off when you tell me that you do.  Please, take my eating disorder off of my hands. What started off as “willpower” just ended up controlling me and the rest of my life.

NEDA Walk

If anyone is interested in helping me meet my fund raising goal for the National Eating Disorder Association walk, I would greatly appreciate it! This is such an important cause to me and every little bit will help! Also, I really really want to be on NEDA’s Junior Board at some time and this is kind of a trial run for me to see if I’m capable of raising money.

http://neda.nationaleatingdisorders.org/site/TR/NEDAWalk/General?px=1085045&pg=personal&fr_id=1730