Archive for June 27, 2013

Will The Heat be a positive movie for women or a big pile of sexist fattist stereotypes?

U.K. (left) and U.S. (right) versions of the poster for THE HEAT.

 

The Heat—the new Melissa McCarthy/Sandra Bullock flick—opens in theatres this weekend, and I’m having mixed feelings about it.

 

1) To start off, there’s the issue that the movie poster (see above) features an obviously Photoshopped pic of McCarthy.

Here is a still from the film for comparison:

Pics of McCarthy from the film and the poster side-by-side clearly demonstrate that her face and neck have been slimmed down and touched up:

It seems a shame that now that McCarthy—a plus-size woman—is a superstar they’re trying to change the way she looks.

Everyone likes her just the way she is. Leave her alone!

As one blogger said, “Nobody is unclear [about] what Melissa McCarthy’s body size is—she’s plus-sized and proud. So why have the designers of this poster done their utmost to Photoshop a good 30lbs off of McCarthy’s face?”

We all know that Photoshopping leads to problems for all of us—how can we feel good about ourselves if everyone on our screens looks perfect?—so it’s even more offensive that 20th Century Fox felt the need to Photoshop someone we all like for being real.

Click here to see what McCarthy should have looked like in the poster.

 

2) Next is the problem that McCarthy is a talented actress who is repeatedly reduced to comic “fat” person roles.

Like many “fat” actors and actresses before her—John Candy, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Roseanne, etc.—and like her character in Bridesmaids, I worry that she is being laughed at rather than laughed with.

I was a big fan of McCarthy when she appeared on Gilmore Girls, so I know that she is an excellent serious actress too, raising the question, why don’t they give her any dramatic roles?

The answer seems obvious: Hollywood still believes that being fat is funny.

 

3) Finally, The Heat seems to be falling back on some dangerous stereotyping.

Stereotypes that make the “fat” character lazy, wild, undisciplined and make the thin woman uptight and no fun.

In other words, cliched BS that we all know just isn’t true.

 

Still, this is a movie featuring two women who are at least somewhat outside of the tiny little box Hollywood has designated for “leading ladies”—one is bigger and one is older than the actresses we usually see starring on our screens. So it remains to be seen whether or not this is a film we should support or shrink from.

Tune in next week for our verdict on The Heat!

A losing battle: what’s it going to take for people to get that diets don’t work?

Getty image from The New York Times

 

I really believed when I started this blog four and a half years ago that by now people would GET IT—they would understand that dieting can make you gain weight, that dieting can make you unhealthy, that dieting is bad for you.

But even though many, many, many experts now agree with me (see NPR, The New York TimesTime, etc.), real people in my life still think I’m crazy.

Or maybe they just think that they are the one of the few who are going to make dieting work, that they are one of the 1-5% of dieters who never gain back more weight than they lost.

Sadly, out of all of the people I know who’ve gone on a diet since this blog has started, none of them have kept the weight off more than two years.

Not the sixty-by-sixty friend.

Not the I-can’t-have-gluten friend.

Not the I’m-getting-married friend.

Not the I’m-not-dieting-but-only-eating-fruits-and-berries friend.

Not the I’m-going-to-do-my-first-5K friend.

Not the I’m-cutting-flour-and-sugar friend.

Not Seth Rogen.

Not Jonah Hill.

Not Carnie Wilson.

All of them—every single one of the people I know who went on a diet—has gained the weight back if it’s been more than a couple of years since their diet started.

Believe it or not, this does not make me happy. It actually makes me sad. I watched them all (except for Rogen, Hill, and Wilson, of course) cut out foods they love and practically starve themselves for as long as it took to reach their goal weight. I witnessed their discipline. I saw their pain.

Believe it or not, I wanted them to prove me wrong. I really did. And that’s because I care about all of them.

But none of them did.

Sure, I still don’t know what’s going to happen to any of my friends who are dieting right now.

But I have my suspicions.

I have my suspicions because most of my friends and family members who are overweight still diet despite the fact that it never works over the long haul. The only thing that’s changed is that they don’t tell me about it because they know I don’t approve or, worse yet, don’t want me to write about them here.

I realized this was the case recently when one of my friends said to me, “I can’t eat that. I’m on a die—” and then just stopped mid-sentence.

“It’s fine,” I said even though I could feel the disappointment rising in my chest. “You’re on a diet. You don’t have to hide it from me.”

What I want to know is, if I can’t convince my own friends and loved ones that dieting is bad for them, what are the chances I can convince anyone else?

Listen, I’m not trying to be a jerk—I get it. I do.

Dieting is the fastest way to lose weight. Everybody knows that. It’s a quick fix. A temporary salve. And there are many days when I, too, want to go on a diet and lost twenty pounds in three months too.

But there’s no denying the science—if you lose weight fast by altering your diet for a short time, you will gain the weight back. And you’ll probably gain more than you lost. Simply put, diets cause us to gain weight over the long haul, not lose it.

I think the real problem is that, in America, we think that being thin means being healthy and attractive. And being overweight means we are unhealthy, unattractive, lazy, and undisciplined. Until we get over these untrue stereotypes, people will keep dieting—no matter how many times I tell them it’s not working.

 

Kindly step away from the mashed potatoes: why sharing food can lead to problems

Sunday night, my husband Dave and I went out for dinner with two friends. Near the end of the meal, I was talking to said friends, focusing my attention on them, and when I turned back to Dave, I found him eating my mashed potatoes on the sly.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“I thought you were finished with these,” he explained.

“I was going to take the leftovers home and eat them tomorrow.”

“Oh, okay,” Dave said in a way that resembled a child who’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

This incident brought to mind the problems that crop up when living—and eating—with a partner.

One of my cousins—whom I’ll call John—used to say that women always gain weight after they get married. His theory was they had worked so hard to stay thin before they got married that they figured they could let themselves go afterwards.

(Yes, John is an asshole.)

Though there is no doubt some truth to the notion that PEOPLE—women and men alike—feel like they can let themselves go after getting married, especially if they went on a pre-wedding diet, I think there’s more to it than that.

I noticed when I started living with Dave that eating with him every day made me eat more because, unconsciously, I was always trying to keep up with him.

This problem manifested itself two ways:

1) I often felt like I had to eat as much as he did… If he ate two servings at dinner, I thought I should I eat two servings. Not because it was a contest or anything, but just because some subliminal part of me thought, Why can’t I eat as much as he does?

2) Sometimes I worried that if I didn’t eat fast enough, he would eat my food. This isn’t a regular problem with Dave (though it does happen sometimes), but it had been a problem with other men in the past, especially when sharing food in a restaurant. This problem is compounded by the fact that sometimes I worry about missing meals or not getting any food at all. (I blame the neanderthal in me for that.)

As a result, I began gaining weight as soon as I started living with men—both in group houses when I was single and when I moved in with Dave.

It didn’t take long for me to notice there was a problem. I hadn’t gained any weight since my freshman year in college—when I happily picked up the freshman fifteen and never looked back since before that my BMI was on the low side of normal—and suddenly I was gaining weight every week.

So I started paying more attention to my eating habits and quickly figured out what was going on. It wasn’t a difficult issue to resolve once I discovered what I was doing, but even now I sometimes have to stake my claim on my food—going so far as to draw a line down the center of our meal, so I know it won’t disappear when I’m not looking. In other words, to keep #2 from happening, as it did last night.

It does make me wonder how much of our problems with eating are associated with some weird kind of unconscious peer pressure—If everyone else is eating spinach-artichoke dip, I should eat some too! 

The simple solution is to be aware when your eating habits are negatively affected by other people and change behavior—yours or your partner’s—as necessary.

And I highly recommend keeping all mashed potatoes to yourself.

Pain = gain: why being hard on yourself doesn’t work

Art by Stuart Bradford for The New York Times

 

New research supports the theory that dieting—and being hard on yourself—leads to more weight gain and health problems.

Psychological researchers have been looking into self-compassion—meaning how compassionate we are with ourselves—and how that affects both our mental and physical health.

What they have found is incredibly insightful:

“The hypothesis is that the women who felt bad about [eating junk food] ended up engaging in ’emotional’ eating. The women who gave themselves permission to enjoy the sweets didn’t overeat.”

We already know that dieting leads to long-term weight gain for 95% of dieters, and this new information demonstrates another reason why diets are bad for us—because denying ourselves foods or telling ourselves they are bad for us makes us eat more of them.

But as wellness expert and New York Times reporter Tara Poker-Pope points out in her article “Go Easy on Yourself,” “This idea does seem at odds with the advice dispensed by many doctors and self-help books, which suggest that willpower and self-discipline are the keys to better health.”

It’s true that not dieting and not being hard on yourself is counter to what we’ve been taught for years… that pushing yourself is good for you. The no-pain-no-gain narrative is so rooted in our collective psyche that it’s hard to comprehend that the opposite might be true: lots of pain, lots of gain.

“’Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan,’ said Jean Fain, a psychotherapist and teaching associate at Harvard Medical School” and author of The Self-Compassion Diet, a book which—despite the use of the word “diet” in its title—appears to embrace everything this blog is about.

As Fain explains, most diets “revolve around self-discipline, deprivation and neglect,” which is the opposite of what researchers are now starting to believe is at the center of a healthy lifestyle.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t all try to eat healthy food and exercise regularly, but rather the point is that being kind to ourselves when we don’t do that is the key to success in these areas. After all, if one of our friends skipped a day of exercise or ate a high-calorie meal, we wouldn’t be hard on her about it. We would be supportive, reminding her that it’s okay to slack or indulge from time to time. But, for some reason, we beat ourselves up when we do the same, which hurts us much more than it helps.

As Poker Pope says, “The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic.”

It’s something we all need to seriously consider.

Fat-shaming 101: If supposedly smart people don’t get the obesity epidemic, what hope is there for everyone else?

While I Will Not Diet was on hiatus, a University of New Mexico professor and NYU lecturer named Geoffrey Miller tweeted the following:

Dear obese PhD applicants: If you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.

On his UNM faculty webpage, Miller also left this message for potential PhD candidates:

I am looking for bright, motivated, conscientious students with very strong GRE scores (above 700), a strong commitment to a research career in evolutionary psychology, good research experience, and solid academic training in psychology, biology, and/or anthropology. Interested students should contact me directly by email. [Ed.: NO FATTIES!!!!!]

Of course, these comments are offensive on the most basic level—they’re fattist and express a prejudice against people who are overweight.

But they also bug me because the message that “fat” people are undisciplined and lazy is just plain wrong.

It’s wrong simply because there are plenty of people—myself included—who are considered “fat” by our society but are overweight not because of a lack of discipline, but because of some other cause—be it genetics, a pregnancy, a thyroid problem, an injury, or whatever.

(As a side note, I’m sure Miller would say I’m fat, but I’m also a Ph.D., disproving his belief that you can’t be fat and disciplined enough to get a Ph.D.)

Listen, any idiot knows that lots of things cause people to gain weight, so what I don’t get is how this Doctor of Philosophy—who got his degree from no less than Stanford Universitydoesn’t know that.

The truth is that he probably does know that, demonstrating the real problem of fattism in our society—we all know intellectually that weight gain can be caused my many factors, but for some reason we, as a society, refuse to process that on a gut level.

And until we do accept that fat does not equal lazy, we will never solve the obesity problem in this country because we will never truly understand what’s causing it.

Also, Geoffrey Miller is a complete ass.

Of TV stars, movies, books, and cartwheels…
I Will Not Diet comes back from hiatus

Hello, dear readers,

You may or may not have noticed that I Will Not Diet hasn’t been very active over the past month or so. That’s because I decided I needed to take a hiatus to focus on finishing the semester and finishing the book I’ve been working on for over four years.

Good news—I finished both the semester and the book—so I think it’s time to bring back I Will Not Diet.

A few things you missed while I was away…

 

1) I had the pleasure of meeting and introducing Mary McDonough—who played Erin Walton on The Waltons—at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. McDonough is a strong advocate for the fight to get women to accept their bodies the way they are, and I highly recommend you read her book, Lessons from the Mountain: What I Learned from Erin Walton, which details how Hollywood negatively affected her own body image for far too long. If McDonough can reject the notion that Hollywood determines what beauty is, then I think we can too.

 

I also got to meet Fonzie at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest.

How freaking cool is that????

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2) I saw several films that were good for women and one that was not.

 

The good included Frances Ha, an independent film that looks at the expectations put on women and young people in America.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QD88JpNEQz0

Admission wasn’t the best film I ever saw, but it was much smarter than I expected; more importantly, it provided us with a real female character to both root for and cringe with in Tina Fey’s Portia Nathan, who alternated between looking confident/successful/put together and overworked/stressed/a mess, which I loved.

 

Stories We Tell was also excellent, and though it wasn’t really about gender issues, I think it’s always a good idea to support female filmmakers since there are so few of them in Hollywood. The more we support them, the more likely we are to see honest depictions of women in film.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hZAowwh65A

The one movie that made me cringe was Oblivion. It wasn’t a bad story (though it ripped off several other films), but the depiction of the female characters was downright offensive. Even though all of the female characters in the film are supposed to be highly intelligent and skilled astronauts, they all dressed in tight, seductive clothing and had perfect long flowing hair and flawless makeup all the time. Not only that, but they also always played second string to their male counterparts, letting the men do the tough/scary work and take care of them. I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe that female astronauts would act like the damsel in distress or look like Angelina Jolie.

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3) I guess I should say more about finishing my book, which is tentatively called You Belong to Us. As I said, I’ve been working on this book for more than four years—since December of 2008. Though the book is primarily about my experience meeting my biological family (I was adopted right before the photo above), it also touches on issues related to this blog, especially how it is that our self-esteem is cultivated—and often deestroyed—by our families and our environments. I think that alone makes the book worthwhile, but I hope it also delves into important questions about identity and family, which, of course, feed into our self-esteem and body image.

And, of course, I always think it’s important for women to tell their stories, so I feel proud to tell mine.

I’ll admit that it was a tough decision to put I Will Not Diet aside to finally finish the book, but I felt it was necessary for my mental health. So I hope you all can understand why I made that choice.

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4) Finally and possibly best of all, I did my first cartwheel in about five years last night at Bowling Green Backyard Bootcamp. (That’s me in the back in the black pants and white tank.) This has been a goal of mine for a couple of years now. I wanted to prove to myself that I was healthy and fit enough to still pull them off. Mission accomplished!

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I also have a dozen or so articles I want to discuss with you, but I’ll save those until later this week.

Thanks for coming back!
Molly

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