Susannah Indigo (sindigo) Tue 5 Jun 01 19:54
re 48 -- yes I understand, I only meant they don't live in those cities. An interesting column on the prejudice against fat people related to gays is at: http://www.goodvibes.com/magazine/xxl/current.html?BASKETID=00_3b1d9ad68cc92 where Hanne Blank, who used to write an advice column called "Ask The Fat Broad" is writing a new series on "Rated XXL".
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Wed 6 Jun 01 00:13
Molly - absolutely. My journals start just as I'm entering puberty, and in the first chapter of STICK FIGURE, I note that the rules are changing all of a sudden. Not in terms of what I eat, but in terms of how I act. I'm told to act "ladylike" which makes no sense to me because I consider myself a "kid" not a "lady." And my thinking was, if "ladies" have to act a certain way - quiet, docile - I wasn't at all interested in becoming one. And later, I learned that to be "ladylike" you had to eat smaller meals, not eat dessert, and be "delicate" in your behaviors, including those around food. As for why mothers want their daughters to be thin - in my diaries, there's a sentence which also appears in the book: "Julie said her mom wants her to lose some weight so she won't be chubby and sad as a teenager." As demented as this sounds, I think Julie's mother really believed that her daughter would be happier - more popular, feel more self-confident, get more (male) attention - as a thin teenager than as one who might be slightly chubby. And in the so-called real world, this is probably (unfortunately) true. So I think it has more to do with mothers knowing how cruel the world can be to teen girls who aren't thin than with mothers competing with their daughters. Although the latter definitely exists. But because it's so dangerous-sounding or threatening or whatever-you-want-to-call-it, people rarely discuss mother-daughter rivalry.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Wed 6 Jun 01 00:20
Ruth - are you talking about women eating cookies over the kitchen sink because of that passage in my book in which I find my mother doing that? Or have you seen someone else do it as well? In my book, my mother eats cookies over the sink late at night because doing so in public, I think, would have seemed shameful to her. But to me, the whole scene seemed frightening. Later in the book, when I'm told I have to stay at the kitchen table until I finish my meal, I stubbornly sit there until 11:00 at night. Then my mother, unaware that I'm sitting in the dark, comes into the kitchen for her cookies and I'm terrified by her behavior. There was something that seemed so out of control about it. And ironically, my parents were telling me not to engage in bizarre eating habits, and yet here's my mother with her own version of bizarre eating habits. Very confusing for girls to process.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Wed 6 Jun 01 00:39
David and Ruth... that whole notion of control equated with thinness is - to a former anorexic, or even a former stringent dieter - an utterly hilarious notion. Refreshing News Flash For Americans Who Wish They Had The Willpower To Diet: When dieting becomes an obsession (and to become as thin as our culture tells us we should be, you have to be at the obsession level), the diet controls YOU, you don't control it. It takes over your life. When people ask why I started eating again, why it seemed, from the diaries, that I "suddenly" gave up my diet, this is the one time I wish I'd written memoir instead of transcribing my actual diaries. Because I'd like to explain that part, add a bit of adult insight, but I can't, given the material. And the part I'd like to add is that I realized the diet was controlling my life and I couldn't TAKE IT anymore. I still believed that I was fat, yet I was willing to eat because being on the diet made me so miserable. Yes, I could eat a crouton in ten bites, but that's not true willpower or control. The truth is, I felt more out of control on the diet than off it. So, those traits we associate with thin people? Hogwash.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Wed 6 Jun 01 00:48
Kelly: Yeah, the book signings are great - much more interesting for me than doing TV talkshows or even radio shows (which I like a lot if I get a good interviewer) because at signings, you have these hour-long lively discussions with total strangers about incredibly personal issues. I think the instant intimacy in that public forum stems from the fact that everything that comes up - every comment made - is deeply understood, on a visceral level, by every other woman in that room. And men are just flabbergasted... and I think a little freaked out...by the power and raw energy in the room when you get a bunch of women together to discuss a book about body image in our culture. You asked about tour info. - go to my website www.lorigottlieb.com for the scoop.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Wed 6 Jun 01 01:04
Susannah: I have so many stats it's scary. It's gotten so much worse. There are a few stats in my book's epilogue. And then there are the usual scary ones that people hand me at book signings about models thirty years ago weighing X number of pounds less than the average American woman, and models today weighing X minus 30 pounds less than the average American woman. Or the fact that in a recent survey, girls were asked what they feared most: nuclear war, loss of parents, cancer, or getting fat. Guess what they chose. Paul: Thank you for saying that! Because my book takes place in L.A., I'm always asked if I think this is an "L.A. phenomenon." Um, hello?! I've had girls come up to me at book signings all over the country sighing the mantra of teen girls everywhere: "God, I HATE my body!" And I think, too, that when I was growing up, my idols were people like the actresses on "Charlie's Angels" or adult women I'd see in women's magazines, but today's girls have idols who are their peers: the teen actresses on the WB and Fox shows, Britney Spears, etc. So they think, "If I don't look like these girls, who are my age or thereabouts, something must be wrong with me." Whereas when I was comparing my little teen girl body to women like Jaclyn Smith, I knew I couldn't possibly have her body because I was just a girl. I still wanted to be thin, of course, but I felt less pressure because it wasn't as though I saw images of my peers on TV or in magazines. It was something to aspire to in the future. I do think the media affects girls (and women) all over the country. If you have a TV or a newsstand, you can't escape the pressure. Which is why I've had six year olds (yes, age SIX) come up to me at book signings and announce, "I think I'm too fat." Here's a tidbit that someone in Atlanta handed me at a recent book signing: "A psychological study in 1995 found that three minutes spent looking at a fashion magazine caused 70% of women to feel depressed, guilty, and shameful."
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Wed 6 Jun 01 01:08
Linda asks what size is considered "normal" nowadays. Another stat of interest: "The average woman weighs 144 pounds and wears between a 12 and a 14." I think this means average American woman. And I'm equating "average" with "normal" here. Except that most people equate "normal" with what they see in the media. Which most definitely is not a size 12 or 14. So I have no idea what's considered normal.
-N. (streak) Wed 6 Jun 01 01:40
I have a question that's a bit tricky to bring up without sounding like I want to reinforce the messed-up stuff we're talking about. Where does obesity fit in? Not normal weight or chubbiness or even just regular fatness, but serious obesity of the kind that one really only seems to see much of in America. I mean, I am _all_ in favor of women being comfortable with their bodies, and I have a documented preference for women with some meat on their bones and some junk in their trunk, but where does one draw the line before you're talking about a real health problem? But then how does one decry the problem without being painted as a _Cosmo_ editor who wants all women to look like swizzle sticks with wigs on? I've seen cases where someone says "Geez, if that much of the population is chronically obese, that's a problem" only to be told "You just want people to be obsessed with thinness instead of being comfortable with their bodies." I just can't see getting comfortable with heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and all the rest of it as a good thing. Is there a good way to promote people actually being at reasonable weights without veering off to either extreme? Am I being a jerk?
Ruth Greenberg (ruthchava) Wed 6 Jun 01 05:47
I'm really glad you asked that, and am waiting for Lori to give her definitive answer, but I'd say that the preoccupation with dieting has a lot to do with the obesity we see in this country. If anyone with "a little meat on the bones and junk in the trunk" is considered obese, how can people who actually have a health problem due to overweight get the help they need? And I think often the help they need is not to be put on a strict diet--it's to be helped to understand why they are eating, and if they're using food to cope with difficulties in their lives. Lori, re cookies over the sink: I have not read your book yet, but got the "cookies over the sink" ref from a post above mine. I have seen my mother-in-law, a person who seems very in control about everything in her life and is not visibly overweight or preoccupied with her own size, do this and engage in other behavior around food that I find mysterious and meaningful. The "cookies over the sink" just seems emblematic of a certain kind of eating in private, to me.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Wed 6 Jun 01 10:23
N. and Ruth - I'm also a medical student at Stanford (don't ask!), so I know all too well how much of the population is at an unhealthy weight in the OTHER direction. My response may sound simplistic, but I've believed this for years. In our culture, we focus on aesthetics, rather than health. If we were to focus on health - teaching kids (both girls and boys) healthy eating habits rather than telling girls, "Don't eat that, it makes you FAT" - and if being healthy became the socially sanctioned way of being (i.e., the cultural pressure to be "thin" transformed into the cultural pressure to be healthy - and by this I don't mean tofu burgers, I just mean balance and moderation as opposed to excess or starvation), many of us would feel not just better physically, but we'd look better as a by-product. This is precisely why I'm careful in how I respond to people who tout seeing "fat" actresses on TV as a great breakthrough. In one sense, it's refreshing to see women who don't look like bean poles on TV, but on the other hand, I wonder why we only see the extremes - extremely skinny and extremely heavy. Where are all the healthy-looking people? I think the women on "The Sopranos" are good examples of healthy-looking women. Carmella and the therapist character may be thinner than most American women, but they're not anorexic-looking like almost all the other women we see on T.V. And they're treated as vital, sexual, complex people, unlike some of the heavier characters peppered into a show's cast (e.g., see my earlier post about the Molly character on "Ed").
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Wed 6 Jun 01 10:28
Ruth - The cookies-over-the-sink thing can seem so cliched, but to a young girl observing this behavior...well...I'd be curious to know your reaction to how those scenes played out in my diaries. Several people at signings have commented on those passages, not because they hadn't seen that behavior in women before, but because they then remembered THEIR first reaction upon discovering similar behavior in women around them, or when they found THEMSELVES doing it. And yes, most women who do this seem very controlled publicly, the opposite of what's going on over the kitchen sink. There's also the feeling that if you eat something over the kitchen sink, it doesn't really "count" the way it would if you were eating at the table. A form of denial: "I'm not really eating. Eating takes place sitting at a table."
Ruth Greenberg (ruthchava) Wed 6 Jun 01 11:03
Re: If we were to focus on health - teaching kids (both girls and boys) healthy eating habits rather than telling girls, "Don't eat that, it makes you FAT" ... This is so true, but no one and I mean no one wants to hear about moderation, esp. when the recipients of male attention are the lollipop girls we see on tv and in mags. I am perplexed by the number of people who are willing to give up carbs, or fat, or whatever the faddish bad item of the week is, but who cannot understand the directions: "Listen to your body. How do you feel? Hungry? Then eat something (or don't)." Any idea of how to teach this in a compelling, interesting way?
David Gans (tnf) Wed 6 Jun 01 11:39
>Yes, I could eat a crouton in ten bites, but that's not true willpower or >control. The truth is, I felt more out of control on the diet than off it. That is a powerful image, and an important statement.
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Wed 6 Jun 01 13:40
Lori, I liked what you had to say about "fat" actresses on tv, and the fact that there's not too much between the skinny and fat extremes. When Mode came out, we wrote about it at Maxi -- we were excited to see some sort of magazine that had women in a multitude of sizes -- normal sizes. But that's also the same problem. Why don't we see the integration of the images, of size 12 and up women in all media? Why don't we even see size 10, 140 pound women in other fashion magazine spreads? And the fact that women read these magazines... an old roommate of mine talked about the fact that she loved to get her Elle, Mademoiselle and Allure because "it was like having a girlfriend come over, like having a sleepover." It kind of made me shudder -- this same roommate had a mother who was always putting her youngest sister on a diet (the sister in question wasn't a stick, and is now 5'11" and graduating from high school -- she needed the meat she had on her body!). It made me feel sad. I'm currently visiting my family in Minneapolis, and we've been talking about a lot of these issues -- I was fortunate enough to have a mother who didn't pass on a lot of these messages to me. I was a rail-skinny, late-blooming, glasses-wearing geek as a kid (still am a geek, still wear the glasses). At age 17, I hit puberty with a vengeance, went to live in Germany for a year, and gained 20 pounds. These days, I really could stand to be in better shape. I have a belly, I have hips and thighs. I'm a bit zaftig. And I go back and forth. I have the "I should really lose the weight," or the "I should be buff" -- even though the people around me -- my mom and family here, and my boyfriend in Chicago -- like me the way I am. It's so hard to escape these issues. I also have a question about journal writing, Lori -- is it still something you do? How have your journals changed over the years?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 6 Jun 01 17:53
And I have a question about how publishing your journal has affected your relationship with your mother. Your mom doesn't come off very well in this book at all, Lori. And while I understand the scenario was filtered through the eyes of an 11-year-old, the way you seemed to be treated made me wince. There's a scene you describe (page 122) when your mom is taking you to an appointment with Dr. Gold. You quote her as saying "Try to remember what he says when he explains why you're doing this to us." Based on what you wrote after the appointment -- "When I got home from Dr. Gold's, Mom and Dad wanted to know how the appointment went. `What did Dr. Gold say?' Mom wondered. She probably wanted to know if he figured out why I'm ruining her life." -- it looks like you accepted the accusation that you were somehow doing this to mess with your mom. Did you have any anxiety about seeing this published, knowing that your mother (whose role was much larger in the book than your dad's) would see it? What was her reaction when she read the book?
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Thu 7 Jun 01 00:13
Ruth, all those ridiculous diets I talk about in my book? These are real! Some people wondered if I fictionalized them because they seemed so absurd (like the one where you eat one kind of food each week, like only fruits/veggies; then protein only the next). That was my point - that people follow absurd diets instead of just eating healthy, balanced meals. And they don't necessarily get any thinner on these diets because - hello? - these diets don't work! They just make you hungry, because you're not getting the right nutrients, so you can't maintain the regimen. Then you overcompensate when the "diet" ends and back comes the weight. If people would just eat healthy meals, they'd look and feel a lot better. But that's so un-American: it takes too long. No promises of "three pounds in three days."
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Thu 7 Jun 01 00:14
David - Exactly. I hope people "got" that. Because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom and our cultural stereotypes.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Thu 7 Jun 01 00:26
Molly: I do keep journals today. I've never stopped, actually. They've changed in the sense that they used to consist mostly of reporting - "Today this happened" (as in STICK FIGURE) - but over the years they've become more a potpourri of thoughts, impressions, something I notice during the day, something I cut out and paste in. Much less a record of what I did each day. And, in fact, I write in spurts. Sometimes I'll write 10 pages a day, sometimes I won't write for a month or two, sometimes I'll jot down a few words or a phrase and come back to it (or not). But I do find that I go a bit berserk without my journals. So I bring them with me if I go out of town, in case I feel like writing. The other thing is privacy. This might sound bizarre coming from someone who made her diaries public, but I'm paranoid that if I get in a car accident or something happens to me, whoever goes into my house collect my belongings will find my journals and the impression I'll have left is one of utter and complete insanity. (The narcissism here is embarrassing - as if ANYONE CARES!) So before I leave the house, I try not to leave my journals out. I say this because a few years ago, I was hit by a car and injured pretty seriously. My family went into my house to bring things to the hospital for me, collect my mail, get my messages, etc. And all I could think about was, "Oh my God. My journals are on the kitchen table!" Not, "Oh my God, I might be paralyzed!" So it's paranoia, but based on a past experience. (Turns out my family respected my wishes and closed them unread.)
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Thu 7 Jun 01 00:30
Cynthia - I have so much to say in response to your question that I'm going to reply tomorrow because it's 12:30 a.m., I'm on deadline for something, and I have to wake up early for some meetings. And I want to make sure I cover everything, because you bring up some important issues around publishing personal material that involves the personal lives of others. So, stay tuned... 'Night all!
Lisa (jonl) Thu 7 Jun 01 08:33
Email from Lisa: Thora Birch is not an Academy Award winning actress. You are probably thinking of Anna Paquin. Have a groovy day, Lisa
Molly Wright Steenson (explode) Thu 7 Jun 01 10:07
Cynthia, great question -- I had to wonder about that too. And Lori, this comment you made is really interesting (and as you've noted, a little ironic): "The narcissism here is embarrassing - as if ANYONE CARES!) So before I leave the house, I try not to leave my journals out." On one hand, you've been able to be very public about something you wrote (and many posts earlier, you also said something about the woman who sent you all of her journals, and the fact that journals should be private). And yet today, it seems like your writings are too close to the bone. This is also interesting to me on a personal level -- I've been an avid journaler, but these days, I keep a personal website which I update every few days (http://www.girlwonder.com). What I put there is personal but not what I'd put in a journal. But since I've started keeping it, I don't journal as much anymore. There's a funny public/private and past/present dichotomy here, I think.
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 7 Jun 01 10:41
I remember the diet where you eat one kind of food one week and a different kind the next! Wasn't that the Beverly Hills diet? I used to be an avid journaler until I caught my first husband reading them. Of course, that marriage was doomed right then and there! Another reason, though, that I stopped journaling was because I realized I was using the journal to work things through with people instead of talking to them directly. So I learned to talk to the people I needed to talk to and that led to the death of my journaling. In a way, writing on the WELL has taken the place of journaling. If I have something I want to express, I do it here instead of in a journal. If I were to do an extract of what I posted in a given period of time, I'm sure that it would match what I would have written in a journal. So, I guess, I'm still journaling, only interactively.
when cheese is insulted, it catches its winces! (pellmell) Thu 7 Jun 01 11:06
What castle said. My journal gives me advice and sympathy and sends me little presents in the mail sometimes even.
this American incuriosity (crow) Thu 7 Jun 01 11:48
Yeah, the well works that way for me a lot. Sometimes I think I should write more of this stuff in private and quit boring people. My housemate is an avid journaller, has been for years. he recently completed a project of re-reading about ten years worth.
Lori Gottlieb (lori-gottlieb) Thu 7 Jun 01 23:55
Interestingly, I haven't written in my journal since I've been doing this discussion on the WELL. But I don't think it's because I'm writing the same content here that I'd write in my journals. I think it has more to do with expressing oneself - you may have noticed that I tend to log on around midnight, when I get home and right before bed. And after posting, I've felt "cleansed" - it's been cathartic and nurturing in an odd way - I feel like when I read a post from someone who's written before, I'm starting to get a sense of the person behind the post. I find myself laughing or nodding in agreement or smiling at a shared experience, and I'm fascinated that we're all engaged in this discussion from wherever we happen to live. I've started to form images of what I think each of you might look like, based on your words (ironic, given the topic here!), I picture what kind of desk or computer set-up each of you has, whether you're in an office or at home, on and on. So there's something comforting about this experience. I use my journals to achieve that same sort of centeredness, so I guess when I log off I feel like I don't have such a strong urge to write in the journals. But...and I realized this tonight: there's a content question. Before I logged on here tonight, I had something I REALLY wanted to write in my journal. But I thought if I did that, I wouldn't have time to join this discussion until morning. So here I am, writing this now, enjoying this experience. And yet, I think I'll write in my journal tonight. Why? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the kinds of things I write here seem like part of an interaction - sharing thoughts/ideas - while what I want to write in my journal would bore the bejesus out of anyone who doesn't know me personally. Actually, it would probably bore the bejesus out of those people too! What's fascinating(and becoming quasi-addicting to me) about the WELL is that we share very personal information with complete strangers. But it has a context. There's a topic - in this case, my book, STICK FIGURE - so what we share relates (however tangentially) to that topic. It's not like anyone's randomly posting something about how much their marriage sucks, or how they have a boyfriend but are secretly attracted to another guy, or whatever. We're talking about body image and memoir and journals and gender roles and what we've learned, personally, about our own acceptance of ourselves in the face of insane societal pressure to look a certain way, but it's not at all the kind of stuff I think we'd find in each of our journals. Or am I way off base here?
Members: Enter the conference to participate