Women’s Studies Revelations

This week in my women’s studies class we were supposed to bring in a picture that we think is beautiful, a picture that is “conventionally beautiful” that we do not like, and write a little blurb about our reactions to them. Unfortunately, my TA just sent out an email that says that the reactions are “academic papers” and not “personal journal entries” so I am going to have to rewrite mine. But I figured I could at least post it here so that someone could appreciate it instead of me just deleting it. It kind of just reiterates a lot of things that I’ve already said in this blog. But whatever. I’m putting these pictures as hyperlinks in case anyone would be triggered by them.

Victoria’s Secret Angels

The image that I don’t like bothers me because I feel like it is trying to send the message that I should love my body like these women love theirs. But at the same time, I’m confused because their bodies perfectly fit the description of “conventional beauty.” My body doesn’t look like that. This ad leaves no room for variance among bodies. These women all look practically the same. They have the same hairstyles, the same makeup, the same body type, and all of them have relatively light skin. But not too pale, because that would be unacceptable. What if I don’t look like them? This advertisement leaves me confused. Am I still supposed to love my body? Am I only supposed to love my body if I look like them? Is the only way to show that I love my body to make it look like a Victoria’s Secret model? How can I do all this at the same time? How can I love my body the way it is and also look like these women if that isn’t my body’s natural, healthy shape. Are they telling me that if I love my body I will make it look good regardless of the consequences? Is that what it means to love your body? To decorate it, lose every excess ounce of fat, and show it off? Also, is my underwear always supposed to perfectly match? Am I supposed to walk around in my underwear with make-up on and my hair done? As if I’m going out in public without clothes on. Why should my body be used just to look good? Will people still love me even if I don’t look like a Victoria’s secret model? Do I deserve to be loved if I don’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model?

Technically contains nudity. (As a bonus for look at this picture you will get a lovely link to a fun board on pinterest because I couldn’t find the original picture)

I like the second image because I feel like it tells me that women are loveable even if they don’t fit perfectly into society’s idea of “conventional beauty.” This picture is beautiful to me, because these two people are allowing themselves to connect, form relationships, and be intimate with one another, regardless of how they look. When I look at this picture, I automatically think “oh, they love each other” rather than “oh, I should look like her. I’m not good enough. I should work harder,” like I do with the Victoria’s Secret ad. This woman embodies the “loving your body” that I want to have. She obviously cares to at least some extent about her body. She has her nails done and wears jewelry and decorates her body. But she isn’t overly concerned and focusing only on that. She allows herself to show emotion and form relationships regardless of what she looks like. She lets her hair get a little bit messed up. She lets her body fat get above 5% because maybe that isn’t her body’s idea of what is healthy, regardless of what society thinks. Whereas, I feel like the advertisement tells you that you have to be both healthy and a size 2 at the same time. It paints this picture that these women are what health looks like, and that is the only healthy option. And that just isn’t the case. Yes, some people eat healthily and exercise moderately and look like Victoria’s Secret angels. But a whole lot of other people aren’t naturally that size and I wish this advertisement would allow me to actually love my body and let it be the size it wants.

 

Just as another comment. I”m not saying that the VS angels are ugly. Nor am I saying that anyone that looks like them is not beautiful. I’m just saying that I would like to be told that I can love myself no matter what.

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healthy equals what?

Yesterday I was sitting in my women’s studies class, minding my own business and being an attentive student when my professor showed us this image of a rather thin model.

She asked if people thought this woman looked healthy or if she looked too thin. Half of the class answered that she looked healthy. In case you guys don’t recognize her, this is Ana Carolina Reston, and she died of complications due to anorexia. I think I spent the rest of the day livid at the fact that this culture glorifies certain body types regardless of what it takes to get there. She most certainly is not the first person to be used as an “ideal body” and actually we find out later that she was really struggling.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that I “don’t look like I have an eating disorder.” My own sister has told me that I never looked anorexic because my bones weren’t sticking out or anything. And honestly, I don’t really blame her. The way that anorexia is presented in the media is that you have to be absolutely emaciated and dying to actually have a problem. I’ve had so many friends that have been told they looked “amazing” or “beautiful” at their lowest and most unhealthy weights. When they were struggling, starving, and miserable.

It would be one thing if the media glorified people that ate healthily, exercised moderately, and took care of their bodies, regardless of their size. But it doesn’t do that. Everyone seems to spend a lot more time focusing on the people that eat healthily and exercise moderately and are also on the VERY thin side. I definitely won’t say that the media blatantly encourages eating disorders, because we see people being attacked all the time for being “too thin,” but I am just really frustrated that practically everyone’s idea of “healthy” looks like a Victoria’s Secret model. I wish people would quit fighting for people to fit within a certain weight category or image category. No offense, but if you’re eating fairly healthily and exercising moderately, I don’t really give a shit what your body looks like. And neither should other people. Because it isn’t their business.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that people can look like that and still be healthy, good for those people. That’s what healthy looks like for them. My roommate is one of them. I’m just upset that everyone is held up to this standard. Bodies are all different. They have different genetics and work in different ways. So people need to quit expecting them all to be relatively the same size and shape. My body is my business. Your body is your business. Don’t judge it. Don’t comment on it. You can’t prove that one is healthier than the other just by looking at them. And along the same lines, you can’t prove that eating/exercising exactly a certain way will make you look a certain way. You can’t say, “this is what my healthy is going to look like” and then do whatever it takes to get to that shape and call yourself healthy. Because that’s not how it works. I would just like to see some diversity. In advertisements, in media, in movies, in everything. And I know that we now have plus size models, but even they are all perfectly proportioned, curved, balanced, and quite frankly, often the same size. I never see pear shaped models. Or movies with actresses that have love handles. If the size that my body wants to be includes cellulite on my thighs then let me leave it like that, goddammit.

True Self

Lately I’ve been working a lot with my individual therapist on expressing my “true self” rather than my “fake self.”

 

My fake self is who I *want* to be (or I guess who I think I want to be?). She’s perfect. Everyone loves Fake Savannah. She’s gorgeous and thin, she makes excellent grades without having to try too hard. She’s successful at so many things. She’s probably going to be a doctor or a researcher or something, but she’s also incredible at art. She’s outgoing and social, polite, likes to party, but still knows how to behave herself. She’s a particularly nice person and is always looking out for others. She puts everyone before herself and is always willing to help out people in need. The most important thing is that everyone loves her. No one has anything bad to say about her. Ever.

My therapist and I have come to the conclusion that at some point in my life I became convinced that I’m not good enough. And since I didn’t think that I was enough, I started looking to other people to tell me if I was good enough. And if I got even a hint of any sign that I wasn’t enough, I took it and ran with it. My eating disorder really plays a big part in this. It’s like a voice in the back of my head, constantly reminding me that I’m NOT good enough, and that no one likes me. If I’m thinner, prettier, smarter, work harder, then I might stand a chance. So that’s what I do. Unfortunately, I’ve found that when I start to put all of my effort into keeping this appearance I crumble. When I let my self-critical thoughts get out of control, I spend all of my time counting calories, doing homework, and throwing up the food that my malnourished body can’t help but devour. I rarely talk to anyone. Even though I WANT to be social and outgoing, that critical voice always tells me that if I do or say even the slightest thing incorrectly, that people will hate me. They will think that I am awkward and weird. That I am not good enough. So the eating disorder thoughts just take over. If I’m too weird and shy and unlovable for people to like me, I need to be sicker. I need to punish myself. I need to suffer because of how unlovable I am. Then, if I’m sick, people will at least have to stay with me, right? No one would leave if they knew I was hurting. I just don’t want to end up alone. Afraid and empty. I just want the outside of me to reflect how empty and hurting I am on the inside. Then people will know how fragile I really feel.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Any time I think about this I always feel like a “fake.” Like I’m doing this just to get the attention and I’m just being narcissistic and I should get over myself. But my therapist says that isn’t how it is, and right now, I just have to trust her on that. And I wouldn’t say that about any one else with an eating disorder, so I’m trying not to think it about myself.

My true self? I’m still not really sure who that is yet. Five years ago, I dropped absolutely everything except my schoolwork and my eating disorder. I quit having hobbies and dedicated my time to exercising and bingeing/purging. I stopped thinking about things that didn’t involve counting calories or coming up with ways to get out of meals. I’m at least now at a point where I’m mentally fighting the eating disorder, rather than just giving in to it. This means that I can actually try out different ideas of who I think I might actually be. I’m getting there. It’s a slow and scary process, but at least I’m fighting it.

Please Just Be Politically Correct

What do you do when people say things that are really really offensive to you but they don’t know it? One really big thing that came along with my eating disorder was my passivity. I’m entirely too concerned with whether or not people like me, and my eating disorder is a way for me to express that preoccupation. For an extremely long time I have been determined that I can’t “say the wrong thing” or else people won’t like me. They’ll think I’m crazy. They’ll think I’m a bitch. I don’t want to offend anyone else. So I tend to keep quiet and not share my personal opinions. As a result, I often am pretty antisocial and shy. I’ve been working really hard lately on breaking outside of my little eating disorder shell.

Cut to tonight. I agreed to get dinner with several of the girls on my hall. This is a really big deal for me because

1. I haven’t really talked to them a whole lot and I’m still not completely comfortable being around unfamiliar people.

2. I’m still not comfortable eating in front of people, especially people I don’t know. I’m still not able to successfully eat my meal plan exchanges in front of people because I’m convinced that they’ll think I’m eating “too much.”

But I went. I’m always scared to eat with other people because they somehow, ALWAYS seem to make comments like “oh, this food is so unhealthy” or “I’m going to be bad and eat a cookie today” or “oh my gosh. I’m going to be so fat. I promise, I usually don’t eat like this.” Seriously, if you’re making comments about your worth based on what you’re eating, how is that supposed to make everyone else feel? These kinds of comments are always super triggering for me. But I went. And sure enough, within less than five minutes of sitting down not only had all of these things been said, but several other comments that were even worse.

Suddenly my eating disorder thoughts are spiraling out of control and I’m convinced that everyone at the table thinks I’m enormous. That they’re watching what I’m eating, silently judging my personality based on the food in front of me. That they won’t like me if I eat too much. That they won’t like me if I say the wrong thing or laugh at the wrong thing. Unfortunately, thinking these things and giving in to my eating disorder always causes me to become completely passive. I stopped eating, stopped talking, stopped paying attention to the conversation and started only becoming anxious about what everyone else thought about me. Then suddenly I’m kicking myself because if I was emaciated, OBVIOUSLY everyone at the table would realize that I’d become quiet and stopped eating once she said that, and they’re realize that the conversation offended me, and they’d apologize and never do it again. Even though I KNOW that isn’t true. So I didn’t say anything. I didn’t bring up the fact that

A.A lot of the information that was said was just entirely wrong.

B. The whole discussion was a little unnecessary.

Now I’m worried that because I was upset and didn’t talk for most of dinner that my hall mates think I hate them. That I’m weird and antisocial and awkward. That I’m crazy. I want so badly to walk across the hall, knock their doors and just say “Hey. I’m recovering from an eating disorder. I just wanted to let you know that you said this and it really upset me. This is why.” I would tell anyone else in the same position to do that. But because it’s me, they’re automatically going to hate me. They’re going to think I’m crazy and overemotional and they’re going to tell everyone on the hall that I’m crazy and overemotional and they’re never going to invite me anywhere again or talk to me ever again. But they have the right to say whatever they want, right? If I corrected people every time they were politically incorrect, I would piss everyone off. What do normal people do? How do normal people respond when they’re upset or offended? I’m so used to just keeping everything inside and taking it out on myself.

Diet Pills of Death

I’ve taken my fair share of diet pills. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t done it. I’m pretty sure that I’m now in a place where I would never go back to them, but in the moment they just seemed like the answers to all of my problems. Something about the promise of being made better simply by taking this little pill. No pain or effort required. Right?

Wrong. First of all, the health risks are ridiculous. Diet pills can lead to increased blood pressure, cardiovascular problems,  insomnia, and weird oily bowel leakage. One study showed that participants using rimonabant to suppress appetite were more likely to stop taking depression and anxiety medication and had increased suicidal thoughts. The FDA warns against weight loss supplements and states that “we have seen deaths associated with these weight-loss products.” Ephedra has been banned from the US, but it definitely still manages to find its way into the hands of diet-obsessed individuals.

This is a really nice article that sums up the millions of other statistics that I would like to point out but am too lazy to resummarize. So read this.

http://www.smartmoney.com/spend/family-money/10-things-the-weight-loss-industry-wont-tell-you-13677/#article_tab_article

And that’s just the health risks. The levels of effectiveness that diets have is even more ridiculous

95% of all dieters regain the lost weight within 1-5 years

40% of women are continually gaining and losing weight

-dieting is often associated with weight gain, due to the increased incidence of binge eating.  For real, you guys. When you stop giving your body the food it wants, suddenly all you can think about is food. I promise you.

-adolescent girls who diet are at a 324% greater risk for obesity than those who do not diet. Read that again. Yes. It says three hundred and twenty fucking four percent.

For some reason it never really occurred to me that people actually take diet pills. I mean, I guess I obviously knew that people were buying into this whole mess since the diet industry is a $40 billion dollar industry! But for some reason it never really clicked with me. I guess because growing up, not many people around me were openly using diet pills or trying different advertised diets. I thought only my little eating disordered brain would be that willing to risk my health and happiness. Boy was I wrong. I was eating breakfast with a friend the other day and she admitted to me that both she and her boyfriend had taken hydroxycut in the past. I was horrified. I was devastated. I wanted her to know that she was healthy and beautiful and that it just isn’t worth the struggle and self-loathing (not to mention the heart attack risk). This made me really wonder just how many of my friends from high school had taken weird, freaky diet pills. Apparently 20% of them.

Seriously you guys, don’t diet. I’m not saying sit in front of the TV and eat cheetos and ding dongs all day. By all means, exercise moderately and eat in a balanced way. But don’t buy in to the idea that you aren’t good enough, that you need to be constantly perfecting yourself. Because, seriously? $40 billion dollars a year? If I had $40 billion dollars I would end poverty and save every single lemur on the face of this earth. Give your money to someone that needs it. Someone that deserves it. Not someone that is only going to use it to tell you that you STILL aren’t good enough and basically just make you feel like shit about yourself AND compete with the world around you.

angry rant

I’ve been reading Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives by Aimee Liu. Let me start off by saying that I like it, I really do. I feel like it brings up a lot of really nice points. I absolutely recommend it.

However, I do have one really big problem with this book. It’s a problem that I have with most eating disorder books, actually; they only seem to present really extreme cases. I’ve read dozens of stories about people that have been struggling with their eating disorders for 13 years, anorexics that wasted away to 70 pounds. Where are all the stories about people that maybe didn’t get quite so bad? I’d like to read some stories about people that maybe don’t describe how they went in and out of hospitals from the time they were twelve. Obviously some books are WAY worse than others and go into the weight/diet/exercise routine of the suffering individual. But even many beneficial books that leave all these details out focus on how sick the individual was. I am absolutely interested in their story, I promise, but I’d like to read about how their eating disorder originated, what purpose it served for them, how they got over it. Not how many years they had spent in residential treatment or how many different therapists they had seen.

I can see how stories like these are really important, they emphasize that eating disorders are extremely serious, that they are not jokes or choices, and often, that recovery is possible. But at the same time, they really frustrate me. First of all, they present this idea that you have to be absolutely dying to have an eating disorder; a stereotype that I think is a really big problem to begin with. They also bring out the competitive nature of eating disorders. Something about it makes you want to be the sickest, to prove yourself. Which is so extremely problematic when you’re competing for something that only ends in death. I must admit that I have been jealous of people that have gotten to low weights or have been in and out of the hospital. And I’m angry about it. I’m angry that I’m jealous of them. I know I shouldn’t be, and I’m working really hard on it. There’s just something about not feeling “good enough” at my eating disorder. That eating disorder voice uses it to tell me that I’m a failure, to give me more of a reason to restrict, to tell me that no one cares about me, to tell me that I’ll never be good at anything. Because I’m hurting just as badly as the people that HAVE been in and out of the hospital, even though I may not look like it. This tangent brings me to my main point…

The rest of us are hurting badly too! Eating disorder, no eating disorder, bad body image, low self esteem, whatever. I’ve heard SO many people say that they “don’t deserve” to get better because they haven’t gotten sick enough. I’ve said that myself. But it just isn’t true. No one deserves to be sick. No one deserves to hate themselves. Why should people be constantly trying to tone, firm, diet, tighten, shrink, or whatever. We’ve been taught to hate ourselves. To compare ourselves to others. To never be content with who we are. To want to be thinner, prettier, smarter, wealthier, funnier, everything.

I’m not 100% sure where I was going with this. I just sort of kept writing. I think my main point is that I’m angry. I’m really fucking mad. I’m mad that this happened to me, to the people I know with eating disorders, everyone without eating disorders that doesn’t like something about themselves. I’m mad that we have to DESERVE to feel good about ourselves and our bodies. That we’ve learned that we shouldn’t appreciate ourselves. I’m trying right now to channel that anger into my recovery and I want other people to do the same. Whether you’re recovering from an eating disorder or bad body image or low self esteem or whatever. There is no “deserving” to feel good about your body and take care of it properly. That’s something that everyone should be able to do. And other people, the diet industry, your fucking high school GPA, whatever, should not take away from you.

10 Reasons People Shouldn’t Use Thinspo

1. Invalidates Eating Disorders. Thinspo is really just offensive to people suffering from eating disorders. Since thinspo is so closely associated with pro-ana bullshit it just further perpetuates the stereotype that eating disorders are vain, self-inflicted, and essentially just diets. This isn’t true! Eating disorders are extremely complicated and are a lot deeper than just wanting to fit into a pair of jeans. But all of the thinspo circulating around makes it look as though everything is about how you look. It’s a lot more than that, and people with eating disorders are struggling a lot more than you thing. If this really was just a “diet,” everyone with an eating disorder would be able to just snap out of it. I wish it was as easy as reaching a certain weight and being able to quit.

2. Often Unrealistic Images. The women shown in thinspo pictures are not necessarily pictures of healthy women at attainable weights. They aren’t always absolutely emaciated (although a lot of the time they ARE) and their bones aren’t always sticking out (again, a lot of the time they are). But they typically look like Victoria’s Secret models. Be honest with yourself, looking like a Victoria’s Secret model is not an attainable goal for everyone. First of all, it is the CAREER of these women to look the way they do. Second of all, need I remind anyone what exactly it requires to look like a Victoria’s Secret model?

3. Associated With the Pro-ana Movement. Of the 10 top websites that came up when you google “thinspo”, this is what I found (one of them was a definition on urban dictionary, which doesn’t really count, but in case you’re interested it says “Abbreviation for “thinsporation,” aka pictures of bone-thin women that girls with ana/mia use to remind themselves of their goals to become thin.”) 5 of the remaining 9 websites either openly admitted to being “pro ana” or had people on them that claimed to be “pro ana” 6 of the 9 encouraged unhealthy dieting tips 5 of the 9 contained unhealthy mantras encouraging people to put thinness above their health. Only ONE of the websites could make a legitimate claim to using “thinspo” as a way of promoting healthy weight loss/maintenance also-fun facts -when you search “thinspo” in wikipedia, it automatically links you to “pro-ana” -recommended related searches when I googled “thinspo” were “pro ana”

4. Makes People Feel Bad About Themselves. Thinspo makes people feel like shit. Don’t believe me? Women are more likely to participate in comparison and critiquing of their bodies after viewing thinspo. Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh grade girls that view thinspo and pro-ana sites have been found to have worse body image and be more unhappy with their body shape than those that don’t view these sites . 84% of women participitating in a study significantly lowered their caloric intake in the week after viewing a pro-ED site containing thinspo.

5. Makes it Seem as Though Eating Disorder Symptoms are Ok. A lot of thinsporation websites and pictures have absolutely unhealthy “tips” or sayings on them. But the fact that so many other people are approving of these pictures makes them seem ok. Pictures that say things like “keep calm and stop eating” or “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” are only making it socially acceptable to “stop eating” or participate in other unhealthy dieting behaviors. And although this may seem relatively harmless at first, it can spiral out of control and lead to a full blown eating disorder.

6. Creates a Sense of Unity Among Users. When people join together in groups they seem to think that anything they do is ok, as long as someone is backing them up. Creating websites for thinspo does just that. It makes it “ok” to dislike your body, mold it to fit someone else’s standards, participate in unhealthy dieting and exercise behaviors, or look down on overweight people.

7. Health Doesn’t Come in One Size Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. And they are MEANT to come in all shapes and sizes. There is no “one body type” that is the healthiest body type for everyone. Because of this, comparing your body to the body of someone else is not productive. Their natural healthy size is not equal to your natural healthy size, and you should be striving to find what your body wants, not what theirs does. If you are heating healthily and exercising moderately and your body is still a size 12, THAT’S OK. That is your body’s way of telling you that is where it wants to be. Thinspo only encourages comparisons. Again, your body is your body. Their body is their body. They are not similar, and they are not meant to be similar. Thinspo only teaches people that it is ok to compare their bodies to the bodies of other people around them, rather than accepting their body and being appreciative of the things that it can do.

8. You Don’t Know How They Got That Way. You typically can’t tell how healthy someone is from looking at their body size. Just because some thinspo picture has a thin girl in it, doesn’t mean she is any healthier than someone larger than her. She might eat junk food all day and just naturally have a fast metabolism. A person larger than her can be much healthier than her. Your size doesn’t determine your health, your eating and exercise habits do. Eating well and exercising should be about making your body healthier, not only making it skinnier. There are many unhealthy thin people and you don’t know how those people got there. They might have cancer, they might have an eating disorder, they might just naturally be that size. Yes, they might have done it through diet and exercise, but you don’t know that.

9. Makes Healthy Diet/Exercise Solely About Looking Good. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime should be about much more than looking good or making other people jealous. You should be doing this to help your body, to make it healthier and stronger. If you are in a mindset where you are only focused on how you look, you should probably get some help.

10. Introduces Other People to Thinspo. Maybe you’re in a place where you can handle looking at thinspo and it doesn’t cause any real problems for you. But everyone else in the world isn’t like that. Images of thinspo might further trigger someone with an eating disorder. It might introduce someone interested in losing weight to pro-anorexia sites (since apparently all you have to do is google thinspo to find those). If you absolutely HAVE to have your thinspo (in which case there is a problem), at least have the decency to keep it saved on your personal computer or in a journal or something. Don’t post it all over pinterest or blogs or websites or tumblr or whatever. This just leaves it out in the open for young, vulnerable children and people that might have already been experiencing eating disorder symptoms to find. No, they don’t HAVE to look at it, but when everyone else on the website is telling them that it’s perfectly fine and healthy, why wouldn’t they?

Also, reverse thinspo is just rude and offensive. Don’t get me started on that

Edit-I think it’s really important for me to make the point that being anti-thinspo does not mean that you hate thin people. It’s not about saying that everyone should be overweight and that no one should be skinny. It’s not about saying that one is better than the other. It’s not even about saying that if you look at thinspo you will develop an eating disorder. Because that most certainly isn’t true for everyone. It’s about learning to love and respect ALL body types. It’s about not comparing body types or striving to be a body type that isn’t your own. It’s about treating your body properly, giving it the actual nutrition and exercise it wants. And not doing it to look like some girl in a picture. Doing it so your body is healthy.