Archive for body issues

Jennifer Lawrence: doing her part to fight body shaming

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence made waves when she publicly said she wouldn’t “starve” herself for a role. In the years since she’s spoken out about body-image issues and fat shaming. She’s been quoted as saying, “I just think it should be illegal to call someone fat on TV.  I mean, if we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?”

She’s further criticized the media’s negative impact on body-image: “We have the ability to control this image that young girls are going to be seeing. They see enough of this body that they will never be able to obtain and it’s an amazing opportunity to rid ourselves of that in this industry.”

Amen! This issue is near and dear to many hearts and it’s great to see a young actress speaking out and making this issue more well known.  It’s also great to see a highly-visible celebrity talk about food in a healthy way.  The first step in changing things is talking about the problem, and Jennifer is doing her part to continue the conversation.

—Lauren Bunch

The Importance of Body Acceptance: Because We Can’t All Be Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum

These days you can’t get on the internet without hearing another scary story about obesity or body image. As a country, we are obsessed with the subject.

That’s part of the reason I started I Will Not Diet and The Real You Project—to encourage people to question the consequences of that obsession since 45 million Americans go on a diet every year.

This may seem like a good idea given that we are collectively more obese than ever before, but, in truth, dieting is bad for us. Ninety percent or more of the people who go on diets gain back more weight than they lose. That means that every time you go on a diet, chances are you end up gaining weight in the long run, not losing it. And if you go on a diet every year or so, that weight gain multiplies.

These statistics are the reason why I believe diets play a significant role in the obesity epidemic. In countries where people are not obsessed with dieting—France, for instance—obesity isn’t nearly as big of a problem.

This raises the question: why do we gain weight after a diet is over and what can be done about it?

The simple reason we gain weight after dieting is because diets are not sustainable over the long haul, so we go back to our old habits once it’s all over. And as soon as we start eating more, the pounds come back.

Another reason we gain weight post-diet is because, after denying ourselves the foods we love for so long, we want them even more than we did before. I went on the only diet of my adult life before I got married, and after my “wedding diet” was over, I gained thirty pounds (I’d only lost seventeen) because I was so hungry for all the foods I hadn’t been allowed to have for almost a year.

That was when I realized how unhealthy it is to diet.

But the American obsession with dieting is also fueled by our obsession with celebrities. Everywhere you go in America, you see celebrities—on the covers of magazines in grocery stores and drug stores and bookstores, on our television and movie screens, and even on our computers through the magic of the internet. It sometimes feels like you can’t do anything without seeing Danica Patrick popping up in a GoDaddy ad.

And the effect of that celebrity culture is that we, unconsciously or not, want to emulate those celebrities—we want to be as rich as them, as successful as them, as thin as them.

The only problem is that in order to be as thin as a celebrity, you have to make it your job. You have to exercise several hours every day and eat healthy foods at every meal. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have several hours a day to exercise, nor do I have a cook to prepare all of my meals—which is the ONLY reason why I don’t look like Cameron Diaz.

Seriously though—when we try to look like Cameron Diaz or Justin Timberlake (I will never get over their breakup) and fail (because we can’t live at the gym or eat healthy all the time), we give up. We give up and stop exercising entirely and start eating Taco Bell so much it feels like we’re living inside a Super Bowl commercial.

And why wouldn’t we?

If we can’t look like Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, we might as well sit on the couch all night and eat White Castle, playing Call of Duty 2 until we hear our alarm clocks going off the next morning.

This is why we need better role models. If we didn’t aspire to look like impossibly thin or buff celebrities, we might actually be healthier. That’s why celebrities like Lena Dunham and Seth Rogen are so important.

We need real people to emulate, not people who don’t have a bit of extra flesh around the middle or under their arms.

At the same time, we need to realize that—despite Dunham’s and Rogen’s success—things aren’t going to change overnight. Seyfried and Tatum aren’t going anywhere. (they’re probably making a Nicholas Sparks movie somewhere right now), so we have to accept that celebrities are not good role models.

And only after we do that, can we begin to accept ourselves and be healthy.

*

A shorter version of this article first appeared in The College Heights Herald.

Zipper gymnastics. Or why none of us should have to lie down on a bed to put on our jeans.

We’re on the road again to help Dave promote his new novel, The Hiding Place, which came out Tuesday.

While getting ready to leave our hotel this morning, I was struggling to zip my overstuffed suitcase when I was suddenly reminded of being a teenager in the early ‘80s and doing the same thing with my super tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.

How odd, I thought, is it that something as mundane as zipping a suitcase takes  me back to a memory of trying to zip those too-tight jeans. They were so tight that I often had to lie on my bed so that my stomach would flatten enough to yank the gold-plated zipper up to my waistline.

What’s even more odd is that, back then, I didn’t even have what I would call a “stomach.”  I was 5’5” and a lean 125 pounds. I was incredibly active, working out three to five hours every day. I shopped at a store called 5-7-9 and rarely wore the size 9.

So why was I wearing jeans that were too tight?

The answer is that I was doing it because everyone was doing it. Tight jeans were very in in the early ‘80s, and I couldn’t very well show up at the local roller rink without them. At least not if I wanted a boy to ask me to skate with him during moonlight couples.

And I very much wanted that to happen.

So I squeezed into my second-skin Gloria Vanderbilts and talked my mom into dropping me and my friends off at the Whitehouse Roller Rink, where we whipped around the oval to Joan Jett and Pat Benatar and “slow” skated with boys from school while REO Speedwagon serenaded us.

Yes, it was a heady time of worshipping these female punk icons and innocently flirting with boys who were shorter than us.

But it was also the same time when we first learned how to feel bad about our bodies.

And how could we not? We were devotees of Seventeen magazine which featured dozens of articles about dieting and being thin.

I look back on it now and have to wonder if lying flat on our beds to put on an overpriced pair of designer jeans was one of the most unhealthy things we could have done.

Because what message did it send to our adolescent selves if we couldn’t go out without performing such a sick ritual? No doubt it sent the message that the way we looked wasn’t good enough. After all, we were physically transforming ourselves to be considered attractive to others. And in doing so, we felt—for the first time in our lives—fat. Even though we were by no means fat, many of us really believed that we were too fat to fit into the cool jeans, and we had to hide that part of ourselves to be attractive to others.

It was a fucked-up way to begin our journey to womanhood.

And one that, no doubt, has fed into our collective inability to accept our bodies the way they are.

I know many mothers today are hoping to teach their daughters not to buy into the same thin = beautiful equation that we were sold, and I hope that their child-rearing includes rejecting clothes that don’t fit without some serious zipper gymnastics.

Shorts: the final frontier

I swore off wearing shorts many years ago.

If I remember correctly, I was first heard vowing to never again wear shorts in 1998, not long before I got married. I weighed at least thirty pounds less then than I do now, but I still couldn’t stand the sight of myself in a pair of shorts.

I clearly remember that my husband’s sister-in-law laughed when I told her of my desire to forever steer clear of shorts, probably knowing that I was worrying about something I had no business worrying about.

In truth, I shouldn’t have cared about wearing shorts back then because I was in much better shape than I realized. No, I wasn’t at my lowest adult weight, but I was within striking distance. And the cellulite I was afraid of showing off to the world probably wasn’t even noticeable to anyone but me.

Fifteen years later, I know that other people can see my cellulite, which is one of the reasons I still don’t wear shorts if I can avoid it.

The other reason I don’t wear shorts is because I’m 41 years old, and shorts seem like a young person’s game.

As Tom Ford, says, “A man should never wear shorts in the city…Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach.”

Though Ford’s rule is about men, I think it also applies to women—shorts just look strange on grown-ups or anyone who expects to taken seriously (in the city or elsewhere). They look like they’re more suited for the swingset than the real world.

My husband has basically given up wearing shorts too. He’s in perfect shape, so it’s not because of his body. It’s simply because he feels like an eight-year-old when he goes out in pants that don’t cover his knees.

Still, I do have one exception to my never-wear-shorts rule—working out.

When it gets even remotely hot, I wear shorts and a tank top while working out. And I guess my reasoning is that I’m not trying to look good when I’m exercising. Sure, part of the reason I exercise is too look good—though being healthy is much more important—but you can’t expect me to have my hair and makeup done when I’m sweating in 86-degree weather (like we had here today in Bowling Green, Kentucky).

For that reason, I was surprised when I wore shirts to boot camp last week and heard a few people talking about how they hate shorts and never wear them, even when exercising.

Before I go on, I should mention that a good part of our summers here in Kentucky feature temps in the nineties. So these women were saying that they’d rather wear LONG pants in NINETY-DEGREE weather than let other people—even other people at boot camp—see their bare legs.

I get it. I do. I want to look good as much as the next person. But I have to draw the line somewhere. And where I draw that line is at eighty degrees. When it’s that hot and I’m choosing to make myself hotter through exercise, I am more than willing to sacrifice looks for comfort.

Still, the way the other women were talking last week gave me pause. Should I give up my workout shorts? Are my legs that bad?

When I went back to boot camp tonight—and rivers of sweat were running down my face during tonight’s Triple Threat workout—I took a long look at my imperfect thighs and considered this question. And then I thanked God that I’m willing to let some people see the real me.

Baby steps


ME AND MOM, CHRISTMAS 2010

I haven’t had time to talk to my parents for two weeks, but I made sure to call them on Easter. When I asked my mom how my father was doing, she gave me a dissertation on his medication list and his latest symptoms.

But when I asked how she was doing, she only said two words: “I’m fat.”

I sighed into the phone and wondered for not the first time if my mother would ever accept herself the way she is.

“I’m going to that reunion this weekend,” Mom explained, “and I wish I looked better.”

“Everyone will be too happy to see you,” I said, “to notice if you’ve gained a few pounds.”

“I wish I believed that,” Mom said.

Then I decided to try a different approach.

“Do you think Sandy is fat?” I asked, referring to a good friend of hers who has a very average body for a woman in her late sixties—Sandy’s body blossoms at her breasts and hips and thighs but nips in just enough to make her look womanly at her waist and calves. Sure, Sandy could lose twenty or thirty pounds, but she still looks attractive and relatively fit for a sextagenarian.

“No, I don’t think Sandy’s fat,” my mother answered, clearly not seeing where I was going with this line of questioning.

“Mom,” I said, “Do you know that Sandy has the same body you do?”

“She does?” Mom said, clearly skeptical.

“Yes, she does. Almost exactly the same. And when you see Sandy, you don’t see the little bit of padding around her hips. You just see her smile. Because every time Sandy walks in the room, the first thing she does is smile and say how happy she is to see you. And that’s what you’re like. You’re too positive and happy for anyone to have time to examine your body. The people you see this weekend won’t notice any tiny little flaw. They’ll notice your enthusiasm for life.”

I’ve had this conversation with my mother before without any luck, so I fully expected her to balk, to say that she didn’t agree, to talk about needing a dress that would hide her arms. This is a woman we lovingly call “Contrary Penny” because she so likes to disagree with almost everything I say.

So I can’t tell you how surprised I was when she said this: “I’m so glad you said that, Molly. Now I feel so much better.”

And out of nowhere, there is progress. At long last.

Kate Winslet: walking the walk AND talking the talk

I’ve been a fan of Kate Winslet since she was a curvy nineteen-year-old in Sense and Sensibilitysixteen years ago (pictured to the left). She was beautiful in that film but she also looked like someone we could all aspire to be, which is the kind of actress we need to see more of in Hollywood.

Around that time, Winslet’s co-star (and Sense and Sensibility‘s Oscar-winning screenwriter) Emma Thompson told Winslet that if she ever became one of those anorexic-looking actresses found all over Hollywood, Thompson would stop speaking to her.

What Thompson said must have had an impact because Winslet has never become that kind of actress, the kind who looks malnourished.

Yes, she’s more thin now—presumably she’s lost her baby fat since S&S—than she was then, but she’s also not too thin, and I have to give her credit for not caving to industry standards that require most actresses to look underweight.

Because of this, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Winslet recently opened up in a completely honest and healthy way about her past weight issues in the April issue of Glamour magazine.

After the Glamour reporter asked Winslet about being called “blubber” as a young girl of eleven when she was 5’6″ and 200 pounds, Winslet said, “Looking back on it, I really wasn’t that heavy. I was just stockier than the other sporty, whippy-looking kids.”

What that means is that Winslet is admitting that 200 pounds isn’t really heavy for a five-foot-six woman, but rather, as she says, stocky. This is obviously something I’ve believed for years, so when I read about Winslet saying the same thing, I wanted to put my copy of Glamour up to my mouth and give it a big old kiss.

But it gets even better.

Because Winslet also admits a slight irritation with the backhanded compliments she used to get at that weight. “People would say to me,” she explains, “”You’ve got such a beautiful face,’ in the way of, like, “Oh, isn’t it a shame that from the neck down you’re questionable.'”

I know exactly what she is talking about. As I discussed in my “I don’t care what anyone says—I think you’re hot” post, people feel completely comfortable making these kinds of comments that on the surface sound like praise but in truth are laced with implicit criticism.

So when Winslet admitted this had also happened to her, I felt like I’d found my soulmate.

Finally, when asked about whether or not she considers plastic surgery, Winslet said, “I don’t have parts of my body that I hate or would like to trade for somebody’s else’s or wish I could surgically adjust into some fantasy version of what they are.”

All I have to say is, Kate Winslet, will you be my new BFF?

Can you say paranoid?

For the most part, I’m able to keep my insecurities in check, but every once in a while they get the better of me. I’ll give you an example . . .

We park in a gated lot on campus, and after I left our car the other day, I was walking along the sidewalk next to the exit lane when the gate suddenly went up. I jumped back and thought, my God, do I really weigh enough to set off the parking gate? Do I really weigh as much as a small vehicle???

When I got home and complained to Dave about the incident, he laughed and said, “Uh, it’s not based on weight. It’s a sensor—when you walk past it, it goes off.”

“You mean, like in the movies? When the burglar has to go under the red light?”

“Just like that.”

Of course, there is a sensor. How could I have ever thought otherwise? How could I have honestly imagined that I weighed as much as a small car?

I hope you’re not expecting me to answer that question because, if you are, then I’m afraid you just don’t get it.

Teach your children well

196 pounds
Some of my body issues come directly from my body—its imperfections and flaws—but most of them come from my childhood.

You see, I was raised in a house where one of us was considered pretty and one of us was considered smart.

I’ll give you one guess which one I was.

As a result, it’s taken me years to understand that it’s possible to be pretty and smart and to have even an iota of objectivity about the way I look.

I might have mentioned this on the blog a while ago, but back in 2007, I had a bit of an epiphany about my looks. I was giving a reading and used a photo from myself at age ten for the publicity materials. When the advertisement went out via email, one of my students said something like, “I should have known you were always pretty.”

The comment shocked me because until that moment I don’t think I had ever thought of myself as pretty. Attractive, yes. Sexy, hell yes. But pretty? Not really. And I definitely hadn’t thought of my childhod self as ANY of those things simply because of the dichotomy I was raised under … Molly smart, Katie pretty.

For years I’ve thought about this dichotomy—wondered about it, analyzed it, written about it—and sometimes I find myself thinking, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember. Maybe I’m being too hard on my parents.

But then, one of them slips up and says or does something that puts me right back at my ten-year-old insecure self.

This weekend that honor went to my mother.

I hadn’t talked to her in a while, so I was catching her up on what’s been going in my life lately. And when I told her that I was going to have a new author photo taken for my upcoming book, she said, “Make sure the camera isn’t too close. It will look better from farther away.”

Ouch.

I realized immediately I should have been wounded by this comment, but it was so offensive and so like my mother, that it was more laughable than hurtful.

Still, I didn’t laugh.

Instead, I decided to send the message that—despite my parents’ best efforts—I am no longer nervous about having a close-up photo taken. But my mother wouldn’t let it go, insisting that “you don’t want it to be too close.”

At that point, I was fed up and explained—loudly, I might add—that author photos are never full body shots, that they are always, by definition, close-up.

She got the message—probably because of my volume—and backed off.

But later I kept thinking about it—does she really think I would look that bad close-up? Does she really think I’m that hard to look at? And is this why I thought I was unattractive until I was twenty years old?

It occurred to me then that my mother’s comments were more about herself than they were about me. This is a woman who didn’t want to join Facebook because she didn’t think she had a good enough photo for her profile picture, a woman who looks stiff and unhappy in nearly every snapshot. She didn’t want me to have a close-up taken because she never wants to have one taken of herself.

The truth is that it wasn’t that my mother believed that only my sister was pretty when we were growing up or that she wanted me to look more like Katie. It was that she wished she looked more like my sister—more blonde and more thin. And she just assumed that everyone would have that same wish—including me.

Sure, it only takes me a few minutes to figure that out now, but when I was growing up, I lacked the critical thinking skills that allow me to understand this. So I walked through childhood believing I was gross.

I suppose that if I had a daughter—or even a son—I would be falling all over myself to make sure I didn’t injure her self-esteem because of my own issues the way my mother did with me. But since I don’t have any kids, I guess I’ll just have to rely on all of you to take care of that for me.

I’ll eat when I’m dead

196 pounds
Sadly, my father-in-law had to move to a nursing home over the summer, and that move has led to me spend a lot of time with the elderly lately.

It is possible that there is no place on the planet that upsets me more than the nursing home, and if there is, luckily I haven’t been there yet. Because every time I visit, I end up in the bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably.

I wish this wasn’t the case—I wish I had the ability to move my father-in-law into our house, the money to hire him round-the-clock care. Or the energy to stay up twenty-four hours a day taking care of him—feeding him, washing him, nursing him.

Even more, I wish he could still walk. Or speak. Or go to the bathroom by himself.

But these things are not meant to be.

One of the few things my father-in-law can still do is eat. No, he can’t always feed himself, and he can’t ever swallow normal-sized chunks of food. But he can get down small pieces of real food—not pureed food but real food—and that seems to be a bit of a blessing during this time of not being able to do so much.

This is true of almost everyone I’ve met in the home—Bootsie the lost, Anthony the screamer, Hammond the reminiscer, Raymon the talker—all of them can still eat. Even if they can’t all feed themselves.

It’s possible there are people there who are worse off—people who are fed through tubes—but they don’t let me see those people, they don’t roll them down to the dining room for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The people I do meet make that trek three times a day—nearly all of them in wheelchairs, but a few of them still tottering through the halls, as unsteady as newborn colts.

The food at the home is decent—I’ve had it once, and I’ll have it again, probably at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s certainly nothing I would refuse to eat, and I’m glad my father-in-law has that consistency in his life.

But what disturbs me is that some of the residents don’t want to eat. Not because they’re not hungry or depressed, but because they’re watching their weight.

Let me repeat that . . . they’re watching their weight.

Yes, even in the nursing home, even at seventy and eighty and ninety, people worry about their waistlines.

In fact, it’s something that Raymon (the talker) mentions all the time. He’s lived in the home for a while—possibly more than a year now—and he’s obsessed with the fact that he’s gained a few pounds. Raymon sits in a wheelchair all day long—watching television, sleeping, or talking—so I imagine he’s gained weight because of his lack of activity. But rather than address that change, Raymon is cutting back on his daily calories, doing his best to avoid dessert and leave food on his plate whenever he can.

Keep in mind that in the nursing home every single calorie is accounted for. When your food arrives, it comes with a small sheet of paper that lists everything on your tray and the corresponding numbers for each item in order to avoid accidentally increasing someone’s blood pressure or insulin. And nobody gets seconds or more than they should. It is literally impossible to overeat at the nursing home. They just don’t let you do it.

But Raymon is still obsessed with what he eats. He tells me about it every time I see him.

“I’ve got to start cutting back,” he says, and I nod.

“I hear you, Raymon,” I say because it seems cruel to disagree with a man who has almost nothing left besides his opinions.

Nevertheless, in my gut I feel horror—Raymon is almost eighty, and he’s still worried about his weight? It makes me wonder if there will ever be a day when he will stop worrying about maintaining his figure.

I know other people like this. My mom and my mother-in-law are two examples. They’ve both been on and off diets their whole lives, and it’s hard to imagine a time when they will ever give up trying to lose weight. I’ve encouraged them many times to accept themselves the way they are, but my comments are always met with skepticism and disbelief.

Accept myself the way I am? they seem to be saying. Why on earth would I do that?

So I let them count their calories, skip their desserts, and feel guilty when they snack. But I can’t help but wonder—will they ever let it go? Will they ever let themselves eat what they want and stop caring about getting back that twenty-inch waist or fitting into that size six dress? Will they ever decide that it doesn’t matter what they look like in their bathing suit? Will they ever look in the mirror and decide they like what they see?

Read all about it

198 pounds
My husband and I have just finished editing an amazing collection of stories about commuting and travel called Commutability: Stories about the Journey from Here to There (pictured to the left).

Though the theme of this book isn’t directly related to this blog, there are several outstanding stories that relate to body issues, and I want to mention those here in case any of you are interested in buying the book—which is available for pre-order at the low price of just $9.00 until this Saturday, July 31st.

These stories include the following:

“Lactational” by Sara Holcombe—I think it’s safe to say that many women feel like their “girls” are lacking in some way. Some of us think they hang too low, others think they’re too small or too big, and many of us wish we could change them in some way. It’s one of the few body issues that I find women of all sizes share, which is one of the reasons I find this story—about women who sell their breast milk to health food stories for an impressive sum—so entertaining. FINALLY, we can make a profit from our bodies at any size.

“Scream Queen” by Ed Gorman—What would happen if Lindsay Lohan disappeared from society and showed up at your local video store? This story imagines just that by following a geeky twenty-something video store clerk who figures out that one of his regular customers is really a famous B-movie actress who has recently disappeared from the public eye. Though he is initially disappointed in her obvious weight gain, the clerk—and his loser friends—eventually become infatuated with her, proving that beauty really does come in all sizes.

“Who Loves You” by Eric Goodman—There is a long history of stories and novels about adultery—Anna Karenina anyone?—and this story continues that literary discussion from the point of view of a woman who has recently decided to forgive her husband for cheating on her. But her willingness to do so is challenged when she and her husband spend time with an old friend and his new—younger, thinner—girlfriend, challenging her belief that her husband still finds her attractive and wants to be with her.

“Outbound Bus” by Yelizaveta P. Renfro—If we are being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that it’s difficult for any of us to look at someone who is severely obese and not judge them in any way at all. Yes, we know intellectually that obesity is caused by many things besides over-eating—such as genes and chemicals—but this is also an issue people still struggle to comprehend on an emotional level, which is why Renfro’s story about a woman who was once married to a severely obese man is so profound. We all know what it’s like to try to hide our so-called flaws, and this character’s attempts to literally hide her entire husband is both moving and chilling.

“Strawberry Fields” by K. Terese Pampellonne—This touching story begins with a familiar premise: boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, but in this version, rather than lose the girl, this teenage boy gets his girlfriend pregnant, causing the two of them to run away together. As the story progresses, we find out that he is less interested in his girlfriend once she becomes “fat.” Sure, his attitude is completely offensive, but that’s why it’s good to read and share stories like this—so we know why this kind of perspective is so wrong, making it a great story to have all your guy friends read. I tell my students that the best characters are the ones we like despite their flaws—think of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs—and the protagonist of this story is another outstanding example of a wonderfully flawed character.

There are more moving stories that deal with body issues—“Completo” by novelist Faye Moskowitz comes to mind—and much more, but I’ll keep the other stories a surprise for those who decide to buy.

Click here to order a copy of Commutability: Stories about the Journey from Here to There.

  • twitterfacebook