Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 31 May 01 15:44
Lori Gottlieb is the author of _Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self_ (Simon & Schuster 2000; Penguin/Putnam paperback April 2001; Audio book 2001). A national bestseller, _Stick Figure_ has received acclaim in numerous publications and from the American Library Association, Book-of-the-Month- Club and Quality Paperback Book Club. The film rights have been optioned by Martin Scorsese, who describes the book as, "It's like Holden Caulfield goes on a misguided diet." Gottlieb's work has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Elle, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Slate (guest diarist), Salon, The San Jose Mercury News Sunday Magazine, Daily Variety, and The Industry Standard, among others. In another life, Gottlieb was a film and television executive in Hollywood, and is currently a medical student at Stanford. For more information, please visit http://www.lorigottlieb.com Lori will be interviewed by Molly Wright Steenson, who has worked with the Internet since 1994 as a writer, editor, community host and user experience designer. She was the co-founder of Maxi (http://www.maximag.com), a pop-culture feminist zine in operation from 1997-1999. Currently, she works on user experience projects in Chicago. Her daily blog and personal site, Girl Wonder, resides at http://www.girlwonder.com. Please join me in welcoming Lori and Molly to inkwell.vue!
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Thu 31 May 01 18:07
Wow... this is so cool. I'm amazed that I found my way in here - as I told Molly, I'm THE most technologically-challenged person on the planet. Or at least my age. It's Thursday night, and for the first few days, I'm gonna seem sort of MIA because I have to go to L.A. to do a quick photo shoot for Mademoiselle, so I won't be online much. That's SO not a name-drop, btw. I bring it up because my book, a collection of my adolescent diaries, rants about things like the hypocrisy of "women's magazines" and here I am doing a photo shoot for them. So does that make me a hypocrite? I don't think so (I can explain, really!), but I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Fri 1 Jun 01 08:19
Hello, Lori -- I'm glad to see you found your way in here. So... for starters, a few thoughts on what we're talking about here. Lori Gottlieb's book Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self is a journal of her 11 year old self as she developed anorexia. But Stick Figure is much more than the description of what it's like to be anorexic -- it brings up issues about control, body image, cultural values of girls and women versus those toward boys and men, and how comments that might seem innocent and innocuous have a way of warping what we see in the mirror. Over the next few weeks, we'll discuss these meta issues around the body, image, memoir versus journaling, and control, among many others. It's also interesting to note that Lori's background adds some unusual facets to the discussion. She was a tv and film exec in Hollywood, where she encountered anorexic actresses and saw body image issues play out first- hand. And currently, she's a medical student at Stanford, and sees things from "the other side" (in her words). Lori, you also worked at Kibu (and did an article for the Industry Standard called "The Cult of Kibu," which described the problems and the cliques surrounding a startup focused on teenage girls). Maybe we should use your Mademoiselle photo shoot and your Kibu experiences as a jumping off point. How do you sort through the cliqueishness of adult women, and the messages that girls and women still get, having had the experiences you talk about in Stick Figure? (and if anyone else would like to chime in with questions, thoughts, or comments, feel free to post.)
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 1 Jun 01 09:16
Also, if you are reading along on the Web and don't have a WELL membership, but would still like to ask questions or make comments - send e-mail to email@example.com and we will be happy to post your comments or questions for you.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Sat 2 Jun 01 00:13
Hmm... Molly, you start off with an interesting question because my personal feeling is that instead of supporting one another, women contribute (a lot) to the problems we have as a culture around our schizophrenic attitudes toward beauty and attractiveness. The prevailing opinion out there (at least this seems to come up at book signings or on talk shows I've been on) is that men constantly send messages that women will be unlovable-slash-unacceptable-slash-ignored if they don't conform to the media-prescribed "look" - which always means molding one's body into something it probably isn't or can't be, without plastic surgery. Whereas we women, being "enlightened," stay away from superficial judgments about aesthetics. Ha! Ha ha ha ha he he ha.... baloney! Now, I'm not saying men are innocent in this, but my experience and that of women I know tells me that women can be the harshest judges of both their own bodies and those of other women. Much harsher than men might be when it comes to women's bodies. Just go to a gathering, hang out by the ladies' room, and listen to women talk about Susan, who's gained a few pounds and has therefore "let herself go" or Jennifer, who hasn't lost the weight after her pregnancy, and so on. Or think about this: how many women do you know who secretly feel better about themselves if they happen to be the thinnest woman in the room? Be honest. I'm sure you know some. You may even BE one. There seems to be more competition than support from the very women who complain about the problem. Part of the reason I published my diaries is that they're chock full of seemingly innocuous comments made by the women around me (our mothers, teachers, older sisters, friends at school) that I, as a girl-in-transition-to-adulthood, took quite seriously and eventually internalized. They very much informed my attitudes about my body. Which is why, actually, I kept the diaries intact instead of writing STICK FIGURE as a memoir - the power or impact or whatever you want to call it, I think, comes from hearing the actual words of a girl observing, Margaret Mead-style, her surroundings. And recording these observations in real time. What I mean is, it's one thing to say, "As a kid, I heard our mothers say..." but it's quite another to read what the girl wrote at that time. Because girls today (and women, for that matter) are both hearing and saying these same things. So we're perpetuating the problem, which is a very un-P.C. thing to say, but I do believe that WOMEN have to change their behaviors and attitudes if this problem of perpetual dissatisfaction with our bodies is to have any hope of going away. Oh God, I'm starting to sound earnest, which, if you ask me, should be one of the Seven Deadly Sins. So, moving on... Kibu - This was a Silicon Valley startup run by women who hoped to "empower" and "inspire" teen girls, but instead, the culture behind-the-scenes rivaled that of the "Heathers" crowd in high school. I'd suggest reading the piece (www.thestandard.com and search for Lori Gottlieb - I have several pieces so click on the "Year In Review" issue and you'll find "Inside the Cult of Kibu") because it addresses Molly's question better than I can at midnight after traveling all day! But I'm happy to revisit if people read the essay and then have questions...it seems to strike a chord with anyone who's worked at a startup, or with anyone who wanted to put arsenic in the popular girls' Diet Cokes in high school. (Hey, kids - don't try this at home.) Mademoiselle photo shoot - I'm doing it in the morning, so stay tuned for tomorrow's report.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 2 Jun 01 11:41
>Ha! Ha ha ha ha he he ha.... baloney! Thanks so much for saying that. As I read the preceding paragraph, I was mentally composing a response to it, protesting that not all men are part of that weird thing. In a way, we're victims of the same impossible standard. I know I am, having struggled with my weight for all of my 47 years.
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Sat 2 Jun 01 12:17
Lori, I think you're right -- I think that women are more often than not the people who enforce judgments of weight and appearance. It's something that comes up a lot in your diaries -- where you were writing out diets for other teenage girls in your class, or all the popular kids are "fat" and on diets. I think of it in the stories of one of my close friends, whose mother pulled her out of softball practice at age 8 to go to Weight Watchers meetings (and she wasn't fat). In some of these cases (and again, this is something that comes up in your book), it's the further perpetration of the myths that our female role models have -- in your book, your mother, or maybe someone's best friend. In the case of my friend above, it seemed to come from her mother. So why do these myths get handed down (don't eat dessert) from women we look up to (these same women who we catch eating cookies over the sink at night)? And David, where do we learn the "impossible standard", as you put it?
David Gans (tnf) Sat 2 Jun 01 13:17
>And David, where do we learn the "impossible standard", as you put it? I think we are exposed to huge amounts of cultural information throughout our lives, and not all of it gets procesed sufficiently. We see a lot from an early age -- my generation saw it on TV starting almost from birth, and in magazines from the time we were old enough to steal our dads' Playboy magazines, etc -- and if there is sufficient reinforcement, we never unlearn it. I can think of various prejudices, stereotypes, etc. that I acquired from my peers, family etc. that I later figured out were not for me; if my classmates didn't have the same sort of enlightening experiences that I did, then they may still be carrying some of those notions.
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 2 Jun 01 23:16
<scribbled by castle Sat 2 Jun 01 23:17>
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 2 Jun 01 23:19
Sorry, posted in wrong topic.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Sun 3 Jun 01 00:37
Molly, I think these messages get passed down because they're so pervasive that we don't even realize we're passing down any messages at all. It's like, "How's the weather?" - we think we're just making value-free, "normal" conversation. Case in point: today I did the Mademoiselle photo shoot with my childhood friends - some of whom are mentioned in my diaries in STICK FIGURE. The photographer took a few Polaroids to get a lighting read and when we saw these test shots, several of my friends said, "Oh my God, I look so fat!" (No one was even CLOSE to being "fat"!)And one of these women has a very young daughter. So here we were as adults, talking about our bodies they way our own mothers did when we were little girls. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with wanting to look good. I mean, I hated the outfit they'd given me and I insisted on changing into something I felt more comfortable in, something I felt I looked better wearing. But what bothers me is that women often go straight to the "I'm fat" knee-jerk response, whereas I just hated the color on me (bright red - and my wardrobe consists mostly of black, white, or gray - I'm not a "bright color" person). So it was interesting to see these girls (now women) making the same comments about their very thin bodies that our mothers did. This is how these attitudes get passed down to the next generation. David, what kinds of "enlightening experiences" did you have that changed your attitudes?
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Sun 3 Jun 01 07:01
Lori, was the Mademoiselle photo shoot about your childhood friends, in part? Were they battling the same demons as you? Will they raise their children with the same "seemingly innocuous" comments that people around you made as you were growing up? It also strikes me that there's this connection where "I don't like how I look" or "I hate this color on me" to "Eeuw. I look so fat." David, I'm curious as well about what you learned that made you ditch some of the standards you'd been hearing all along. And along that same line, Lori -- how have you dealt with those messages you were hearing? How do they affect you when you hear them today?
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Sun 3 Jun 01 07:20
One other thing that's coming out in conversation here at home around the book and this discussion is whether these attitudes of Susan (who gained a few pounds and "let her self go") or Jennifer, who hasn't lost the weight after her pregnancy are about winning a man, or keeping the man you have. I get a lot of misguided email for Maxim (its URL is one letter off of Maxi's URL). A lot of it is greatly sexist -- one message to the Maxim editors last week had to do with the sender stating that sometimes you just have to tell a woman what's what, and to treat her however you want to treat her. So we've been talking this morning and wondering, are these attitudes connected -- we're saying that so and so has let herself go, and that's a bad thing because now she'll never get a man? Or the woman who never did lose that weight post-pregnancy will have a hard time keeping her husband? Are those some of the attitudes under the surface? Lori, in Stick Figure, you talk about your mother saying that you shouldn't have dessert, that you should leave it for your brother and father. I wonder too that by dieting and having these thin-image problems, there's something at work that serves to separate women from men, and make women almost a separate species.
Diane (dshif) Sun 3 Jun 01 07:23
Lori, your book sounds fascinating. I'm a Registered Dietitian, not involved in Clinical for some time, and in fact one of the reasons for that is the spooky obsession the profession has with their height/weight charts. I long ago moved to a model of healthy food choices, exercise, self-acceptance and away from even the concept of 'dieting', which is like playing with a loaded gun for some adolescents. Good point about women perpetuating this nonsense. In a group of women, what would be some good responses to the "Eeuw, I look so fat?" syndrome?
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Sun 3 Jun 01 23:23
Diane, I don't know what a "good response" to "Eeuw, I look so fat" is, but MY response is simply to ignore it. I mean, why sit there and go, "No, no, you're not fat"? That just sets into motion a conversation that goes something like: "No, you're not fat." "Oh my God! I SO am! You should see my thighs." "What? You don't even HAVE thighs! What are you talking about? Look at my hips!" "I wish I had hips like yours. All my curves are on my butt." It's sort of like the guys-dissing-each-other-as-a-bonding-thing phenomenon. Except with women, it's a twisted version of reverse psychology: I will insult myself so that my friends will compliment me and make me feel better about myself. Then my friend will insult herself so that I will compliment her and make her feel better about herself. Then we'll engage in a faux my-body-is-worse-than-your-body contest, which will make us both feel better about ourselves, because we'll each reassure the other person about the acceptability (if not the beauty) our respective bodies. Barf.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Sun 3 Jun 01 23:34
Molly - about your reference to my book, I definitely think there are different rules for girls and boys, or women and men. These diaries start when I'm just beginning to develop breasts, and all of a sudden, people around me are treating me like a "girl" rather than just a generic "kid." So suddenly I'm being told that chess (my obsession at the time) and math (my other obsession at the time) aren't "normal" interests for a girl, but that trading hairbands (my friends' obsession at the time) WAS normal. Same with portion size and who gets to eat dessert. And a million more subtle things that you've read about in the book. What's interesting about these diaries is that my older brother (who was a few years older, a bona fide teenager) was being sent very different messages, and when I questioned this, at that age, no one could provide an answer that made sense. A lot of people have picked up on that from the book - I may have recorded this confusion in my diaries, but so many other women have lived it as well, and remember this bias very clearly with their own siblings.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Sun 3 Jun 01 23:48
I'm thinking about Molly's guy question, which comes up a lot. Many women do feel that thin equals lovable, but again, that's more a female urban myth than something that all or even many men truly believe. Just as women may fantasize about Brad Pitt (or whoever People picked for the latest "Beautiful People" cover) but still can be attracted to guys who aren't quite so...movie-star hot, men may fantasize about some really thin women but still be quite attracted to "real-life" women. I never thought guys would read my book, but so many have written to say, "Oh, NOW I understand why every time my girlfriend/wife/whoever gets dressed to go out, she asks, 'Do I look okay in this?' and if I say, 'Yeah, you look fine,' she asks, 'So I don't look fat?'" Sad but true. A lot of women believe that if they look "fat," men won't be interested in them, and by implication, they'll be alone/unloved. And also, some women believe that there are only so many men to go around, and in survival-of-the-fittest sort of way, the thin ones will "survive." So they make these catty comments (that we were talking about earlier) out of fear, more than anything else. God forbid, the woman who "let herself go" should be ME, right? As for Maxim, read my article on Kibu from The Industry Standard. 'Nuff said.
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Mon 4 Jun 01 09:41
So we agree the rules for women and men are different. But why are they different, and in which ways are they the same? (I'm referring too to what David Gans said a few posts ago -- that there is an impossible standard for men as well).
Susannah Indigo (sindigo) Mon 4 Jun 01 10:28
The answer to anyone you care about saying "ew, I'm so fat," is "No, dear, you're beautiful exactly the way you are," followed perhaps by a gentle discussion of things that truly matter in the world.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 4 Jun 01 11:24
>David, I'm curious as well about what you learned that made you ditch some of the standards you'd been hearing all along. My head was filled with rteceived "wisdom" from my peers, as everyone's is. As you get older and smarter, you start to realize that the next guy doesn't have his shit any more together than you do, mos' likely, so the stereotypes and judgments he's putting out there are the products of his own insecurities and fears. Experience taught me not to be afraid of gay people. Experience taught me to trust my own instincts and judgments about people and not to listen to gossip about others. Experience taught me that the soul of a person is not discernible from a quick look at their external features, and that beauty evident in the way a person moves, acts, speaks, interacts. Being something other than a stereotype good-looking dude -- always struggling to keep my weight down and not spending nearly enough on my hair and clothes -- couples with a shred of empathy to enable me to free myself from the notion that looks are the improtant thing in evaluating people. I don't think I have explained how I got there. I guess the answer to that quewstion is, I paid attention to life as it has happened to me for 47+ years.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 4 Jun 01 11:49
Great insights, David. I've been through similar thinking. When I was younger my looks were okay, but for whatever reasons I've put on a lot of weight over the last 4-5 years, and when people look at me they see a fat person. That's not the way I think of myself, and it's created weird dissonance. I'm also learning more and more about preconceptions and discrimination based on appearance... and the constant pressure to be thin, to be cool... men are definitely not exempt.
Ruth Greenberg (ruthchava) Mon 4 Jun 01 12:40
I agree that those are wonderful insights. Thanks, David. I'd like to bring the conversation back to women, and how they are encouraged to see their value based on how thin they are. All those stereotypes definitely play in; I remember my mom talking about how untrue the stereotype of fat woman as undisciplined or lacking in self-control was, but at the same time (practically in the same breath) encouraging me not to gain weight or I would have trouble finding interesting jobs, getting into college, etc. Lori, what do you make of this "I feel fat" idea? Someone mentioned it above, briefly, and it is something a lot of women say, but to me it feels like a way to get out of expressing more complex or nuanced feelings; When my friends say they feel fat, or that they're having a "fat day," I cannot really talk about it with them, because I don't know if they mean, "I feel unloveable;" I feel out of control;" "I feel out of sorts," or what. What has your experience taught you about the responses to that statement or ones like it?
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Mon 4 Jun 01 18:18
Ruth: Yes! Women are encouraged to determine their value based on how thin they are. It's a currency of sorts for many women in our culture. Notice that thin women are more likely to be liked by a job interviewer, or that a thin woman who walks into a store will get help much faster than a heavier woman will. It happens all the time in dozens of situations that have nothing to do with the more obvious, "Will I be attractive to men?" question in terms of dating. Yet they're related, politically, if I can use that word and not sound high-falutin or hyperbolic. And the contradiction you mentioned with your mother: my book is full of these contradictions. There's a passage in the diaries in which I say: "Mom's magazines have twelve great cookie ideas, but then on the next page they always have twelve great diet plans that tell you never to eat what you just baked." Or the fact that my mother never said anything about my body not being thin enough - in fact, she often commented that I was too thin (I was tiny), yet in the next breath, she was telling me to save desserts for "the guys" (my father and brother). "I feel fat" to me, btw, means, "I feel bad about myself today." In my book's epilogue, I discuss the way women wake up and get on the scale or look in the mirror and that number or that reflection often determines whether it's a "good" day or a "bad" day. Isn't it tragic that many women determine their moods based on a number on a scale each morning?
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Mon 4 Jun 01 18:24
Susannah - I've TRIED that, and the woman I'm talking to will invariably say that it doesn't matter if SHE thinks she's beautiful the way she is, because although she agrees that other things are far more important in life, our cultural values don't gibe with that view. So she's left with the dilemma of accepting herself for who she is, and even loving that person for who she is, but being treated as a second-class citizen in the outside world; or making herself miserable on diets but being accepted by the world-at-large. Do you get a different response?
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 4 Jun 01 18:31
I've been a lot happier with the way I look now that I no longer live in LA. I don't miss the "LA greeting" - that quick, head-to-toe scan you get from everyone you encounter, with an extra-long lingering glance at whatever is "wrong": last year's pants length or width or heel style or handbag. I was miserable in LA, always felt overweight and ugly and like the country mouse visiting the city mouse. I've been gone nine years, have gained a huge amount of weight that I don't want to confess to in public, and feel better about myself than I ever have. I like clothes and like to look cute in them, but now I just look as cute as I can under the circumstances. When it gets hard is when I go home for visits or if my ultra-svelte, ultra-chic parents come to visit. All conversations center around suggestions for my weight loss, including drastic surgery. But, all my life, conversations with my mother at least, have centered arounded suggestions for my weight loss. I can remember the remarks made by my then-best girlfriend's mother in seventh grade upon hearing that my mother wanted to put me a diet: she looked me up and down and said, where you gonna lose the weight, in your earlobes?? And speaking of earlobes, one of the many, many tried and failed weight loss methods I've attempted includes acupuncture. The point for metabolism is in your ear where a staple is inserted, or a tiny bead attached, and pressing them activates the point. Only, guess what? My ears are too thin and the staples wouldn't stay in. Wouldn't you just know? In retrospect, it seems like the pressure coming from my mother to lose weight started around puberty, as if she were attempting to refute my development, nip those curves right in the bud. She's still trying to get rid of them!!
David Gans (tnf) Mon 4 Jun 01 18:36
>the "LA greeting" - that quick, head-to-toe scan you get from everyone you >encounter, with an extra-long lingering glance at whatever is "wrong": last >year's pants length or width or heel style or handbag. Wow.
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