Tag Archive for body image

Tackling the teen movie: the role that body image and bulimia plays in Heathers

We’ve all had that movie we completely underestimated when we first approached it. That movie we thought was going to be okay but wasn’t a priority. That movie that ended up changing your life, the one that made you wonder why you waited so long to see it: The Surprise.

One of my dear friends had never seen the Lord of the Rings movies before, assuming they were silly and probably not her thing, but she sat through the first one with me anyway (partially because she’s a saint and partially because I badgered her until she did).

The Lord of the Rings was The Surprise for her. She was never much of a fantasy fan, but there was something really special about the the storyline and the visuals that she hadn’t expected to find there.

I’ve always been willing to give most fantasy movies and cult classics a try, but for some reason I had never gotten around to watching Heathers.

As a fan huge fan of Mean Girls, I was told that Heathers acted almost as a precursor to the film, that there were the same kind of social dynamics addressed, and that, like Mean GirlsHeathers validated the struggles of teenage girls. I was also excited to see that someone had turned it into a musical as well.

Spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for?

Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?

What I didn’t expect was for Heathers to draw me in with ’80s movie charm mixed with an irreverent and all-too-honest humor. The focus on murder and suicide was also a little bit jarring.

Heathers is an incredibly important film, putting some serious social weight behind its jokes. It addresses eating disorders and the way that we see food as well as body size as well as the way that our bodies affect how people see us.

 

Grow up, Heather. Bulimia is so ’87.

The film features a trio of beautiful, rich, popular girls that seem to run their high school. All of them are named Heather. Shannen Doherty plays Heather Duke, the bookish opportunist who’s most often seen wearing green and most often victimized by Heather Chandler (played by Kim Walker), the group’s fearless leader.

One of the first scenes in the movie shows Duke calling for help from inside a bathroom stall, after which Veronica (played by Winona Ryder) quips, “A true friend’s work is never done” while wiggling her index finger. Although it’s not shown on camera—thank god—it’s clear that Duke is plagued by an eating disorder, one that makes the other Heathers tell her offhandedly to “Grow up, Heather. Bulimia is so ’87.”

The other Heathers don’t take Duke’s plight seriously, and even Veronica’s suggestion that “maybe you should see a doctor” is quiet and only uttered while she files a nail. Duke reacts by looking uncomfortable, shrugging it off with a “yeah, maybe.”

It’s clear that Heather Duke will not be going to a doctor.

I know I was appalled when I saw that Duke’s friends were barely reacting to her eating disorder, but for them it was a non-issue. In the context of the film, it seems as though Heather is expected to continue to purge if she wants to keep her already shaky spot in the Heathers’ clique, and the dialogue suggests that she’s not the only one dealing with this kind of issue. If bulimia is “so ’87,” then there must be other eating disorders in vogue at the time, maybe not even disguised as crash diets or cleanses.

The exaggerated nonchalance in these characters’ attitudes toward eating disorders isn’t just a product of the movie. Young women in our society are constantly inundated with images of skinnier and skinnier bodies that they have to aspire to, and they often resort to extremes to achieve that kind of body.

And while I’m willing to admit that movies have gotten a little better about including actors of all sizes, the majority of them are still incredibly skinny and, at the same time, actors with bigger bodies are still used as punch lines.

While Hollywood might still have trouble with body image, Heather Duke takes a turn after Heather Chandler’s shocking death. Once the news gets around school, Duke starts stuffing her face with chicken. Her friends notice; Veronica jokes that she needs to “watch it” since she “might be digesting food there,” and Heather McNamarra (played by Lisanne Falk) asks, “where’s your ‘urge to purge’?”

Duke’s response?

heathers fuck it

She says “fuck it,” throwing away the chicken bone like she throws away her attachment to her eating disorder. Duke doesn’t seem to care anymore about how food is going to affect her anymore. Heather Chandler isn’t there to put that kind of pressure on her.

Duke was consistently scrutinized and picked, particularly by Heather Chandler, and with that girl’s death, Duke feels able to eat freely. While it’s not quite that easy to come back from an eating disorder, the sentiment is clear. Sometimes you just need to eat, whatever the consequences.

 

You can live the dream or you can die alone!

If Heather Duke struggled to stay afloat in high school, her classmate Martha Dunstock (played by Carrie Lynn) was virtually drowning. Stuck with the nickname Martha “Dumptruck,” she’s living proof that social hierarchies, especially those in high schools, rest uncomfortably and uncontrollably on the body. Martha doesn’t interact with any of her classmates, sits alone at lunch, and is laughed out of the cafeteria when she tries to speak to one of the football players.

It’s clear that while Veronica and some of the other students have the opportunity to get on the Heathers’ good sides and move up in social status, Martha never has that chance. The Heathers even test Veronica by writing a fake love note from a football player and pressuring her to put it on Martha’s tray. Veronica keeps saying that she doesn’t have an issue with Martha, but since her friends think it’s funny, she makes herself complicit in Martha’s humiliation.

It’s a minor moment, but the prank that the Heathers and Veronica pull on Martha illustrates how difficult it is to be fat in high school. Even Veronica, who has no issue with Martha, is willing to help make her life a living hell because she doesn’t want to say no to the Heathers. The message is that it doesn’t matter how you feel if you don’t act accordingly; Veronica could have easily been Martha’s ally, but it was easier for her to let her othering continue.

Veronica manages to get it right by the end of the film though. After watching her classmates die at her the hands of her boyfriend (played by Christian Slater) and desperately fighting to stop him from blowing up the school, it’s a lot easier for her to put her values in perspective. She gives up on the school’s social hierarchy, snatching the red scrunchie from Heather Duke and proclaiming herself the new sheriff in town before inviting Martha over for a movie.

By renouncing the Heathers’ high school pettiness, Veronica is able to begin making amends for the harm she helped cause. She’s not absolved of responsibility, but the movie ends on a hopeful note as Martha and Veronica walk away together, metaphorically into the sunset.

—Molly C.

Mothers are literally superheroes:
Or mothers have a lot of power and should use it for good

My first job out of high school was in a day care facility. I was working 40 hours a week taking care of children, most of whom were under five years old. On my first day I worked with tiny babies that I was almost too nervous to hold, freaking out when I couldn’t get them to stop crying. On my second day I was put in charge of a class of 10 three-year-olds, and when I went home, I apologized to my mom for everything that I’d done when I was three.

So please understand that when I say, Moms are amazing, and I honestly have no clue how they do it, it’s about a thousand percent sincere.

The thing about mothers, and parents in general, is that they’re responsible for an entire other little person.  It’s their job to make sure that their child is happy and healthy and well adjusted, which is  probably both terrifying and overwhelming. While some of the expectations of motherhood are unreasonable and wrapped up in sexism and heterosexism (such as having to stay at home, be married to a man, or be married at all), there are plenty of good reasons that mothers are seen as these paragons of wisdom and as warm, caring, and nurturing beings.

It’s because children need that kind of care.

So when a protagonist on a television show goes to her mother for advice because things are at their worst, we understand our young hero’s need for that unique, motherly guidance, advice that will help her make the best decision and remind her of the unconditional love that a mom can offer.

Lorelai Gilmore with the only advice that you'll ever need

Lorelai Gilmore with the only advice that you’ll ever need.

However, the way kids rely on moms means the messages we get from them are going to shape us, for better or for worse. No parent and child relationship is perfect, but since such a powerful (and often long-term) relationship carries so much weight, it’s important to do whatever we can to communicate the right message.

Your mom can be your biggest ally or your biggest source of insecurity.

I’m not the first person to say this, but sometimes if you have a lot of positive interaction with your mother but also hear maybe one or two negative comments from her—whether it’s on your appearance, your work, or your opinion—the negative comments are going to be the ones that stick. I mean, I adore my mother, and we’ve been close my entire life. I can’t begin to count the number of times that she’s been incredibly kind and loving and understanding, but that’s not always what’s going to stick with me after I see her.

Sometimes these messages are really subtle, and as a result, half the time I’m wondering if I’m reading too much into them. But when I come home from college to visit and my mom asks me about whether I’m going to the gym and eating right (in between actual questions about school), I get incredibly self-conscious, especially when I know that I’ve gained weight. Even if I haven’t been paying attention to my weight (the most truly blissful times in my life), questions like that make sure that it’s on my mind again.

I’ve had friends with similar experiences, including moms who ask if they’ve lost weight when their moms obviously know they’ve put on a few pounds, or moms who complain one minute that they’re not eating enough while commenting on how tight their clothes are the next minute.

Even growing up with parents who repeatedly new diets meant that, as kids, we learned just how important it is to not be fat, even when doing so requires a lot more trouble than necessary.

A few times, well-meant motherly criticism gone awry is a little more obvious. I’ve never been one for makeup, but when my best friend and I first tried playing around with it, I got really excited about the gold glitter eyeshadow because it was pretty. When my mom saw us messing with it, she told me I looked like a five-dollar whore. Now, I wasn’t as worldly and street smart then as I am today, but the way that she said it was wholly disapproving, even if it was a joke, and even though I didn’t quite understand what it meant, it made me incredibly uncomfortable. I didn’t really touch makeup after that, sticking to the bare minimum for stage makeup in high school and finally trying to figure out makeup for myself in more recent years.

This isn’t to say that moms are like Disney villains who cackle and wring their hands, messing with our ideas about body image rather than locking us away in a tower. But it is important to analyze our beliefs, especially since we will eventually pass them on to our children whether we mean to or not.

My point is that mothers need to be really aware of what they say—especially about bodies—and how they say it, especially to their daughters. We all need to consistently take stock of and interrogate our thoughts and beliefs to make sure that our influence is positive, and this is particularly true when it comes to mothers. One of the greatest relationships that any child, especially a young girl, can have is with her mother, and by focusing on building each other up (and maybe subtly deconstructing sexist and exclusively skinny-focused messages in our culture), we can create positive relationships and stronger people.

lorelai-rory-mother-daughter-gilmore-girls-6515

—Molly C.

Tackling the Teen Movie:
How the messages in Mean Girls go beyond “On Wednesdays, we wear pink!”

Usually when I start a new show or look for a new movie, I try to gauge whether or not it’s going to frustrate me too much.

There are some movie tropes that I absolutely adore despite how problematic they might be—for instance, the makeover montage, the mean girl’s comeuppance, the pining best friend, and the musical number (thanks Ferris Bueller and Easy A!).

But there are a few things that end up being deal breakers for me.

If there’s a diverse cast, queer characters, or even just a cast that’s made up mostly of women, I’ll look into it. However, I can’t stand it when all the women hate each other or are competing for This One Guy who’s actually not that attractive when it comes right down to it.

Has anyone seen John Tucker Must Die and understood why he was that sought after?

Has anyone seen John Tucker Must Die and understood why he was that sought after?

Or when two female leads are both drop dead gorgeous, but one of them isn’t blond and has glasses so she’s the one that’s presented as undesirable or even ugly.

“Designated Ugly Fat Friend” where?

“Designated Ugly Fat Friend” where?

As a writer and an English major, I literally cannot stop myself from analyzing the media that I consume and support, and the more I do so, the more I realize that it’s something we all should be doing.

To start with, Mean Girls is a great example of a film that offers a fascinating commentary on the struggles of young women as they grow up and learn to navigate the world, specifically in regards to dieting, diversity, and solidarity.

beware of the plastics

Mean Girls established itself as a cultural fixture not long after it was released in 2004. So much so that it’s rare for me to meet anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, and I can still quote almost the entire movie with the same tone and inflection that the original actors used.

It’s easy to tell that the script was written by Tina Fey, who also plays a significant role in the film, as the biting wit and humor mirrors the very real issues that women—teenage girls in particular, mostly demonstrated through the main character of Cady (played by Lindsey Lohan)—face when trying to navigate the path to adulthood. Romance, friendships, school, work, beauty, body image, and self-respect are all addressed in different parts of the film, and while they’re not always addressed perfectly, Mean Girls has a lot of really important messages to communicate.

One of those important messages is about dieting…

Despite being considered one of the most beautiful girls in her high school, the character of Regina George (played by Rachel McAdams) complains throughout the film about how she needs to lose a few pounds and keeps trying crash diets like juice cleanses, all-carb diets, or “weight loss nutrition bars.” She is so obsessed with losing weight that one of the first times we hear about Cady’s interest in math is when Regina is worried about the caloric content of her food.

While it’s played off as a joke, this behavior and the references to “girls who eat their feelings” and “girls who don’t eat anything” mirror the terrifying behavioral patterns that young women fall into while trying to achieve American beauty standards. The connection between eating disorders and dieting, while not stated outright, is made abundantly clear.

Additionally, after Regina says, “I really want to lose three pounds,” she pauses expectantly for her friends to tell her—in what sounds like a rehearsed, ritualistic response—“Oh my god what are you talking about? You’re so skinny.”

But why is this comment necessary? What is so bad about not being skinny? Skinny doesn’t mean healthy, and healthy doesn’t mean skinny either.

Of course, Regina’s skinny body—and the skinny bodies of almost all the main characters—send a message about which characters  have worth, about characters are valid. Most of the time, movies that are marketed towards young, American, and usually female audiences have a thin lead actor and a cast full of similarly skinny actors. The movies and television shows that follow this pattern all send the message that the only stories worth telling are about skinny people.

Janis (Cady’s best friend played by Lizzy Caplan) also identifies this conception of a thin female body as a “hot” body—with “hot” in quotation marks—as she maintains that Regina has a “technically good physique.”

regina georges resources

It’s striking to see the way that Janis writes hot with quotation marks. It seems that in doing so she recognizes the way that hotness is constructed rather than inherent and that Regina’s shape and size have a lot to do with this concept of hotness.

In recognizing this pattern, the girls in the film are able to exploit it for their own agendas. During Janis and Cady’s plan to sabotage Regina, they give her nutrition bars meant to put more weight on her and recommend that she eat all kinds of food that could do the same.

It’s honestly really depressing how much Regina’s weight gain affects her. It’s difficult to tell that she’s gained weight just by looking at her (and maybe that’s the point), but the other characters make sure that the audience is in on the joke when they laugh at Regina after she puts on a few pounds.

That’s always how it happens, isn’t it? Other people feel the need to comment on your weight in real life, and this truth is demonstrated in the film as the others make jokes both behind her back and to her face.

At one point, she even tries on a dress that she’d put on hold only to find it no longer fits. While this scene is mostly there for laughs, the moment is actually heartbreaking. There are few things more discouraging than going shopping and finding that the clothes you thought would fit don’t anymore. This is the moment in Mean Girls when the comedy becomes all too real.

 

Another important message in Mean Girls is about diversity…

The majority of the cast is female, and the fact that this is something that we need to celebrate is a little bit sad. But stories like these are essential: stories about women, by women, and for women, stories that acknowledge the limitations that popular culture and the powers-that-be place upon us. These stories can expose and criticize these limitations by pointing out how gender roles and stereotypes consistently devalue women and their contributions to the world around them.

The movie also features a few people of color, such as the principal, some of the boys on the Mathletes team, and others in more minor roles.

Furthermore, women of all body types are featured in the film as well. Tall girls, short girls, skinny girls, chubby girls, and even a girl in a wheelchair. Some of them even look like they’re actual high schoolers instead of just hot twenty-something actors.

In these ways, Mean Girls does an excellent job of being inclusive and showing a more accurate picture of the world we live in than most teen movies.

However, one thing that’s always bothered me about this movie is the treatment of queer characters.

Damien (played by Daniel Franzese) is very obviously a gay man, but most of the time it seems as though he’s played off as a joke. And he doesn’t get the typical teen movie happy ending—a romantic partner—which sets him apart from the other main characters: Janis who ends up with a boyfriend and Cady who finally wins over Aaron Samuels by being herself.

Additionally, the rumor that Regina started about Janis that sparked Janis’s resentment back in middle school was that Janis was a lesbian. Not only did Janis vehemently deny that accusation in the past and not want to mention it to her new friend Cady in the present, but it’s also implied that she was severely hurt by the rumor as well as being ridiculed and isolated because of it.

And in the end, it’s all treated like a big joke that Regina made, brushing off the major impact of the rumor and ignoring the harmful message that it sent.

Sure, Damien is allowed to be the token gay character—albeit a flat one without his own storyline—but the thought that a straight person like Janis is called a lesbian is laughable, even unthinkable. The implication is that there is no worse insult than calling someone gay who isn’t.

This movie came out years ago, so I suppose that this kind of homophobia is a smaller problem in the grand scheme of things, but it’s important to note that there’s definitely room for improvement.

 

Finally Mean Girls says something important about solidarity…

In a somewhat cheesy speech toward the end of the movie—even the principal tells Cady that a speech isn’t necessary—Cady reinforces why girls fighting amongst each other is the worst thing we can do. During the speech she makes sure to compliment the girls who aren’t considered pretty by “Plastic” standards, girls who are chubby or disabled or isolated, and in the same speech she equates all the girls with each other, no matter how pretty or popular people think that they are. Cady says:

“I mean, I think everybody looks great tonight. Look at Jessica Lopez! That dress is amazing, and Emma Gerber that hairdo must have taken hours and you look really pretty. So why is everybody stressing over this thing? I mean it’s just plastic, it’s really just [she breaks the crown and starts passing it out]. A piece for Gretchen Wieners, a partial Spring Fling Queen. A piece for Janis Ian, and a piece for Regina George. She fractured her spine and she still looks like a rockstar, and some for everybody else.”

The breaking of the crown represents Cady’s final denial of an unattainable ideal. Talk about a powerful moment. She’s literally taking a symbol of feminine power, breaking it down, and distributing the power to all the women around her, empowering and uniting all the girls who now share ownership of the crown.

Mean Girls might seem like typical teenage comedy, but it’s really important to emphasize messages of female solidarity, and Cady’s speech does just that. The “divide and conquer” approach is a legitimate strategy to weaken a group of people since they can’t organize and challenge authority or an opponent if they’re fighting among themselves. Women share common struggles, so why shouldn’t these same struggles bring us together instead of allowing petty competitiveness to keep us apart?

tina fey sluts and whores

Say what you want about Tina Fey, but this teen movie has become iconic for quite a few excellent reasons… it’s quotable, it’s hilarious, it’s relatable, and, most importantly, it speaks to issues central to being a woman. I cannot stress how refreshing it is to see an articulation of the struggles that women go through and have them treated as relevant difficulties, even in a lighthearted manner. No, it’s not a perfect film, but it’s just as important to celebrate what is working as it is to be critical of what’s not working.

 

janis and damien scared popcorn
—Molly Couch

The influence of celebrities: good or bad?

It’s no secret that every generation attaches itself to a celebrity and idolizes everything about that person—to the point that they are changing parts of themselves to be more like said celebrity.

When I was growing up, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were the celebrities every young girl wanted to be. Naturally I thought they were fantastic. More than anything I wanted to have their amazing clothes, which were never worn twice, and perfect hair—their hair never seemed to move out of place (which lead to my discovery of hair spray and the fact that using half the can still didn’t make my hair flawless).

_Baby_One_More_Time_(album)

Eventually I grew out of my infatuation with Britney and Christina and realized that perfect hair and wear-only-once outfits aren’t part of reality for us non-celebs.

Still, I worry about the celebrities young girls are idolizing today. Specifically I worry that our current crop of celebs are making young women obsess about more than perfect hair and stylish clothing.

Take, for instance, Kylie Jenner. What kind of influence does a celebrity like Jenner have on young people today?

kylie_jenner_blue_hair

Kylie’s family made their debut on a reality TV show called Keeping up with the Kardashian’s, and fame really suited her—within a year, she was so invested in cultivating her image that she no longer looked like a young girl going through puberty. She had perfectly styled hair and make-up, not a single pimple, trendy clothes—the works. Kylie is also known for her flawless lips, and she can work a nude lipstick like nobody’s business. They are so perfect, in fact, that they’ve launched their own movement: the “Kylie Jenner Challenge” or #kyliejennerchallenge, which shows young women putting suction on their lips to make them as big and full as Kylie’s. Apparently these young women use an object like a jar or glass to draw blood to the surface of their lips, causing them to swell and seem fuller than in their natural state.

Is it just me or is this the last thing we want the young women in our society to be doing? And doesn’t it send the absolute wrong message? The message that women need to harm themselves to be attractive or get the look they want.

It makes me wonder why girls who want to be like Kyle don’t just dye their hair blue. Wouldn’t that be a simpler way to emulate their favorite star?

Or better yet why don’t they follow in the footsteps of someone like Ian Somerhalder who plays hunky vampire Damon on The Vampire Diaries and started the Ian Somerhalder Foundation, which strives to improve and impact the earth and all living things on it. Why can’t he be the kind of celebrity that young people want to emulate?

is foundation image

I suppose the answer is that it’s just not cool to be a do-gooder. Instead, young women today would rather stick a vacuum on their mouths and wait for the real and metaphorical bruises that will eventually come with that decision.

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But if they really want to be like Kylie, they should take the advice she’s been offering on her Twitter account: “I want to encourage people like me to be YOURSELF and not be afraid to experiment with your look.”

Enough said.

Brittany Eldridge

Resources for your body and mind

What most of us don’t figure out until later in our lives is that there are resources to educate ourselves about our bodies and their habits. Recently I’ve taken an interest in researching things about natural eating habits, managing a healthy weight, the woman’s menstrual cycle, etc. I want to share some of the books I’ve encountered with you, so that you may enlighten yourself and your body with some newfound information.

Natural Living: The 21st Century Guide to a Self-Sufficient Lifestyle by Liz Wright

Natural Living

Today, being conscious of what’s happening to the Earth as well as our bodies is something of the norm. So wouldn’t it be nice to have a handbook to guide you on your path to a better lifestyle? Natural Living provides “an in-depth look at the way we live and comprehensive guidance on the crucial changes we can all make.” If you want to learn about all aspects of living in the 21st century, then Liz Wright’s Natural Living gives you the insight you need—whether it’s for gardening, food planning, raising animals, or composting—to get you started. Available at Barnes and Noble.

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Eat Pretty: Nutrition for Beauty, Inside and Out by Jolene Hart

Eat Pretty

It’s nothing new to hear that being nutritious is a trend that everyone wants to adopt. Eat Pretty provides readers with a program that “offers a full lifestyle makeover, exploring stress management, hormonal balance, and mindful living. Charts and lists, plus nearly 20 recipes, make for a delicious and infinitely useful package—in the kitchen, at the grocer, and on the go.” Available at Amazon.

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Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance by Rosie Molinary

Beautiful You

Do you struggle with self-acceptance? Rosie Molinary encourages readers—no matter their size, age, or ethnicity—to make it a goal to feel better about themselves and work towards that goal while ignoring the implicit negativity of the media. Using realistic techniques in a one-year plan to empower and push women to embrace a healthy self-image and break unwanted habits, “Beautiful You strikes a chord with every woman who has ever faltered in her self-confidence or lost her personal brilliance—and it makes sure she never lets it happen again.” Available at Amazon.

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Hopefully these books will enlighten you and give you a little bit more information on feeling positive and maintaing a healthy life.

Brittany Eldridge

The imperfect figure: accepting our bodies

body-types-shapes

We are all born to look a certain way. It’s not until we are exposed to beauty expectations that we start to have issues with the parts we have.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and decided there was something about yourself that you didn’t like? I can answer be honest and say that, yes, I have had that experience.

The women in my family—including my mother, my grandmother, and me—have all been “blessed with” a not-so-prominent backside. I’m talking about our butts. This fact was so well known that for a while I was called “little butt.” To me, the name was always a joke until one day I looked at it in the mirror and was like, “Wow, they weren’t kidding!”

I’m sure that each and every person alive—man or woman—has looked in the mirror to observe a part of their bodies at least once. But what tells us something is wrong with the way we look? Is it the magazines that retouch every photo we see? Take Kim Kardashian, for instance: she’s well known for her booty, so why is it that her photo was still fixed to make her bust, waist, and hips look smaller?

Kim Kardashian

Kim shared this photo with fans and even admitted to having cellulite and not being bothered by it:

“So what? I have a little cellulite.”

This makes me wonder why is it that we label people or point out what’s different about their bodies. Small, skinny, thin, big, wide, fat, average: the names are endless and pointless.

Comfortable is a word that should be used more often, followed by happy.

When I look at myself in the mirror now, I say that my size isn’t small or skinny or thin or average. It’s just my size. And unless I decide to have surgery or retouch every photo I’m, in I’ll always look like this… until I grow old of course. Even then I’m going to accept my wrinkles like I’ve had them my entire life because they won’t be going anywhere.

When it comes to self-acceptance, there isn’t a limit on how much we can achieve. Simply put, we all need to love our bodies and everything that comes with them.

Brittany Eldridge

Growing up flawed: Living with acne

acne-cartoon

When most people hit puberty, they develop acne. We are told, by doctors, parents, and those much older than us, that it’s a part of growing up and that “it will go away.”

But for some of us it doesn’t go away. And unfortunately that’s been the case with me. Sure, it’s not as severe as it was when I turned fourteen and started high school with a face full of little red mountains of fury (gross, huh?), but now that I’m in my early twenties, I’ve noticed that my skin does more than just break out—it’s dry and/or red in certain areas, and it’s discolored from past acne. Also, there’s more hair growing on my face.

All I do when I look in the mirror some days is frown. Shouldn’t my skin be at it’s prime when I’m entering my twenties?

I can’t even begin to explain how many times I’ve looked up remedies for blotchy skin or those damn blackheads that never want to leave. Pinterest has provided me with more than enough information, which I never seem to try. Why is that?

I wonder if maybe it’s because I don’t want to be one of those people who blow through tons of money trying numerous products filled with chemicals that could do more harm than good. Instead, I’m trying a new approach that allows I’m comfortable with my skin and accept that it’s flawed. After all, it was flawed when I was young, it is now, and will obviously be when I’m older.

I see far too many celebrities who still look 30 when they’re more like 50 or older, like Cher or Madonna, and it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. 

They’re talented, yes, but I can only imagine what they have to do on a daily basis to keep that flawless skin. To me, that seems like much more trouble than it’s worth. What’s going to happen when the inside of their bodies: heart, lungs, liver or kidneys, doesn’t work anymore and they can no longer take care of their faces? I hope that they are taking care of more than just cosmetics. Isn’t it important for us to take care of our entire bodies and to accept that one day we will look older? It doesn’t mean that we won’t or can’t be beautiful.

I’m not saying I don’t take care of my skin; I do. I wash my face daily, remove my make-up before bed at night, and moisturize to keep the dry and flaky patches at bay. But I’m tired of fighting my skin and feeling like I’m in a losing battle.

Recently I tried something I’ve never been able to do before. I had gotten one of those really big red bumps right beside my nose and couldn’t touch it without making it have a heart beat, so I left it alone. Yeah, my behavior surprised me too. But it also helped me realize that I can have some acne and be okay with it and the way I look. Self confidence is literally just that. Self. I realize now that as long as I’m okay with it, then being imperfect doesn’t really matter.

Brittany Eldridge

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

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.

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

Oscar recap: people still care way too much about what women look like… said another way: give Renée a break

It’s time for my annual post-Oscar post. Some years the Academy makes me feel good about the world, and other years…

…well, others years it makes me feel like we are still living in the paleolithic era.

Unless you live in a cave, you know that the biggest problem with Sunday night’s Oscar telecast was the host, Seth MacFarlane, whose performance featured jokes that were sexist, racist, and homophobic while also throwing in a rape joke for good measure. (The Daily Beast called it the “Juvenile Oscars,” and you can read about some of the worst offenders in this list of the “9 Sexist Things That Happened at the Oscars.”)

But I’ve already forgotten about MacFarlane.

He’s a neanderthal, he’s Archie Bunker reincarnated in Peter Brady’s body, and he knows it.

In other words, he’s not worth my time.

What I can’t seem to forget—what was keeping me up last night with concern—was all the negativity about Renée Zellweger’s looks.

Type in the words “Renée Zellweger Oscars” into Google over the past thirty-six hours, and you’ll get hundreds of hits about Zellweger’s appearance (as well as her supposedly drunken behavior, which has since been refuted). The internet and Twitterverse have been downright aflame with talk about Zellweger’s face—claiming she looked overly botoxed and completely “unrecognizable.”

All I can say is, what the hell are they talking about?

Zellwegger has always had a unique face, but saying she looks unrecognizable is a strange charge to level when she looked almost exactly like she always has if a bit older and thinner:

And, yes, her face does seem unusually smooth for a women in her mid forties, but no smoother than mine or any of my friends who are the same age as Zellwegger.

I mean, come on. Forty is not sixty or even fifty.

And so what if she’s had botox treatments? We live in a society that is obsessed with scrutinizing the appearance of celebrities—especially female celebrities. I sincerely hope that Zellwegger and other “middle-aged” celebrities reject botox and other types of plastic surgery, but honestly, I cannot blame them if and when they don’t.

It also seems like a vicious cycle that we are helping to perpertrate when we criticize women like Zellwegger who get work done—these women are put under a microscope so harsh that we have entire tabloid magazines devoted to seeing celebrities looking bad in their bathing suits—and then we have the nerve to criticize them when they want their skin to look smoother?

It makes me wonder what they could do, if anything, to make us happy. I fear that the answer is nothing.

Possibly worst of all of the criticism about Zellwegger’s looks Sunday night was a comment tweeted by Jesse Tyler Ferguson (@jessetyler), one of the stars of Modern Family, who said:

Renee Zellweger arrives as a Ghost of Christmas Future for Jennifer Lawrence, bearing warning about Botox. #Oscars2013

Not only is Ferguson’s comment intentionally hurtful, but it also furthers this never-ending cycle of making women feel like nothing they do is ever good enough.

Ironically, it also alludes to the real problem: that women in Hollywood are glorified for their natural beauty when they are young—like Zellwegger was around the time she was in Jerry Maguire and Jennifer Lawrence has been lately—and then ripped apart and rejected when they age naturally. Yes, there are some exceptions, but they are few and far between, and those exceptions are usually only granted to “serious” actresses like Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon.

The other problem with the attacks on Zellwegger is that when we criticize female celebrities for their looks, we simultaneously hurt ourselves and our collective self-esteem. After all, if the internet is obsessed with Zellwegger’s too-smooth skin and her squinty eyes, how on earth are the rest of us real women supposed to feel when we look in the mirror and see that—next to someone as thin and polished as Zellwegger—we look even more flawed? The answer is that we often feel like crap.

And a big part of me wonders if the reason Zellwegger got a bit too much botox or looked too shiny under the bright lights of the Oscar stage or seemed a bit squinty or unsure of herself (to the point that people thought she was drunk) is because she’s been out of the limelight for a while and isn’t as used to the intense pressure and scrutiny that comes along with that kind of international stage.

To put it simply, maybe she was just nervous.

One of my former students posted these words on Facebook today:

If you see someone struggling to keep their head above water, it’s probably best not to push them under.

That’s honestly the best thing I’ve heard in days.

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