Laurie Toby Edison

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Laurie Toby Edison by Carol Squires

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Feeling, Form and Function: A Real-World Guide to Loving Your Body

Debbie says:

Andrea Zanin, who blogs as Sex Geek, is very frequently worth reading: loving the body: a theoretical triptych is one of her best.

But SexGeek isn’t writing about fat acceptance; they are writing about loving your body:

How, exactly, to accomplish this body-loving project, though – that advice is harder to come by. It’s not that nobody’s talking about it. Far from it. It’s just that once you get that loving your body is a good plan, a lot of the instructions on the next steps get kinda prescriptive. Or proscriptive. Or both. As in, you MUST or maybe MUST NEVER cover up / reveal yourself / lose weight / gain weight / wear make-up / go bare-faced / have long hair / have short hair / use product / go product-free / have surgery / go without surgery, and so forth. Failing which, you’re a tool of the heterocapitalist white supremacist patriarchy. Thing is, progressive folks are often just as invested in controlling other people’s bodies and making them fit in as mainstream folks, we just have different ideas about how that control and belonging should happen. This shit is really, really hard to escape.

What I would say here is that sometimes you’re a “tool of the heterocapitalist white supremacist patriarchy” and sometimes the heterocapitalist white supremacist patriarchy is the group calling the shots. They allude to this toward the end of the paragraph, pointing out that this comes from both the mainstream and the progressive sides of the aisle. Then they situate themselves in the issue:

I’ve spent the last decade-plus living inside a body that’s been crippled (literally and metaphorically) by chronic pain and cancer, and gained and lost and gained 60 pounds. It used to be easy to love my body but that hasn’t been true in a long time. And yet, my body-loving politics never changed. It’s just that the easy routes to bodily self-love (have great sex! do yoga four days a week! look hawt in skinny jeans!) got really clogged up.

What makes the article important, though, is the way SexGeek breaks down a useful approach into three parts:

Feeling is about sensation. We can love the way our bodies feel. … Even if nothing else good is happening, body-wise, we can love the way our bodies feel and we can do things to deliberately enhance or increase that kind of positive experience. We can choose to eat foods that taste amazing and make us feel good, exchange touch with friends or partners, masturbate, take a bath – basically anything that’s about the pleasures of the senses.

Function is about what we can physically accomplish. We can appreciate the way our bodies get us places and let us do things. Maybe it’s your hands and their ability to create beautiful art or play music. Maybe it’s your muscles that let you lift heavy things, perform feats of athleticism, or dance with grace. Maybe it’s your eyes and their ability to catch tiny grammar mistakes or diagnose a mechanical problem. …

This isn’t about buying into ableist nonsense about what we should be able to do or what “normal” people do – it’s about appreciating what each of us uniquely can do. People who are “disabled” are still very able to do lots of things, just as people who are “able-bodied” can still be unable to do some things. There’s no room here for unreasonable or non-applicable standards. …

For instance, I’m in awe of the way my hands work. They’re such incredible precision tools. It’s not about having better hands than anyone else, it’s just the wow factor of watching ten fingers at work, doing a zillion things a day.

Form is about the way we look. This can include things like learning to love the body we have, right now, even if it’s not the perfect body we wanted. But it’s not just an inner thing. Loving ourselves via form can also mean deciding that our bodies are worthy of care and adornment. … It’s deeply human to want to create and appreciate beauty. You get to define what that means to you, and then go make it happen. Express your gender, enjoy your own unique brand of gorgeousness, connect with your historic cultural symbolism and/or your subculture(s) of choice via your looks, do the things that make your physical self shine.

Go read the rest. This is one of the best responses I’ve seen to both the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” bullshit where you can love your body if you use the right skin cream and also to the pain I run into among the people I talk to, who have come to hear “love your body” as an order, or a prescription, or yet another thing they feel they ought to do and can’t. SexGeek is getting, well, geeky: technical about what “love your body” means and how to think about it, how to feel into it if it doesn’t come naturally to you, how to thrive.

Thanks to Alan Bostick for the pointer.

WisCon Time Off

Debbie says:

Laurie and I are off to WisCon. We are taking our traditional Memorial Day week off from blogging.

I’m moderating the panel on Size Acceptance 201, with many fine panelists, and Laurie will be talking about her newest art project (and, of course, selling jewelry). And many other exciting events are planned. If you can’t come, and you wish you could be there, think about reading this year’s Tiptree Award winners (My Real Children by Jo Walton and The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne) while we’re gone.

We’ll be back next week!

Work in “Motion” Exhibition in Budapest

Laurie says:

I’m back from my vacation (It was perfect!) and off to Wiscon this coming week.

While I was away, I was delighted to hear that one of my photographs is in the international exhibition Motion at the PH21 Gallery in Budapest (May 28th to June 17th 2015). It’s curated by the director Zsolt Bátori.

I thought that the concept was interesting and submitted the one photograph in all my work that involves motion. It’s my portrait of Junko Fukazawa from Women of Japan that was selected for the exhibition.
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Fukazawa Junko waving her hand
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The group of exhibition photos has a breadth that is conceptually fascinating. And the quality of the work is impressive.
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motionjuncture
Juncture by Vincent Leandro


Photography is a medium of still images; it cannot create the illusion of motion in the way moving images such as film, video or cartoons can. The static nature of the image itself, however, has never prevented photographers from putting motion in the centre of their endeavours. Instead of freezing the moment they often strive for capturing movement and the passing of time. Depicting or expressing motion is a welcome challenge for photographers; it is also the source of some of the most creative images in diverse photographic genres.

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motion lighthouse
The Wave and the Lighthouse by Michael Sean Edwards

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towardthe light
Toward the Light by Lee Atwell
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I tried to be careful in selecting photos from the exhibition for this blog. I tend to lean toward black and white and could easily have chosen only black and white photos. There is something about black and white and movement that clearly appeals to me. When you look at the photos in the exhibition be sure to click to enlarge them. A number of these images, because of the quality of motion, need to be seen larger to appreciate them. In the relationship between the viewer and the image in photography, size matters.

Demystifying Nakedness (and Pornography) on Instagram

Debbie says:

First, let me apologize for how quiet it’s been around here. Laurie has been on vacation and blogging has been my job, and I forgot for a week, and just thought about it today. Special apologies to the commenters on Lynne Murray’s last post, whose comments languished in limbo for too long.

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Beejoli Shah’s long-form essay on Talking Points Monthly–“Inside Instagram’s Long Guerrilla War on Porn—and the Users Who Keep Coming Back” is not just excellent on a variety of levels. Shah is clear and informative about Instagram’s platform, Instagram’s policies, the social role of user-generated nudity, erotica, and pornography, and her own changing responses as she delved into these issues.

Shah is writing about photos of at least three different kinds of things: general nudity, specific sexualized body parts (dicks, anuses, nipples), and actual sexual acts or sexual reactions. She knows they are not the same thing, but from the point of view of Instagram’s censors, she has chosen to discuss the three of them together.

Though nudity is banned by Instagram’s community guidelines, a cottage industry of illicit hashtags has sprung up to find and share these photos, everything from the more mundanely-phrased #seduced and #exposed for broad nudity, to the community-specific tags such as #femdomme and #daddydick, intended more for kink. And that’s saying nothing of the droves of cleverly-punned tags such as #eggplantparm, which may turn you off Italian food for quite some time. These naked photos are so ubiquitous that I’ve yet to search a kink that hasn’t pulled up at least a few steamy selfies.

It’s not hard to figure out that #femdomme and #daddydick were kink tags, let alone that #exposed was a nudity tag. This makes me wonder why the Instagram censors are so far behind the curve, but then they probably have an incomprehensible number of tags to wade through.

One messagesof Shah’s article is that the battle to keep “adult content” off Instagram is simply not winnable. which is a problem for the censors, since the site is open to anyone 13 or older.

The battle for Instagram’s virtue garnered national attention in the summer of 2014, when Rihanna found her Instagram account temporarily disabled after she posted topless photos featuring nipples. Scout Willis and Miley Cyrus, whose nipple photo had also been deleted, teamed up with the creators of a film, whose name became the hashtag for the movement, “Free The Nipple,” and continued to post photos flouting the ban. Comedian Chelsea Handler took a similar tactic, posting topless photos of herself side-by-side with unbanned photos of topless men, like Russian president Vladimir Putin, to protest the discrepancies.

While #FreeTheNipple has precious little to do with porn, it has shined a light on Instagram’s guerrilla war on nudity and other “offensive” content. But it’s less a decisive battle and more a fruitless cat-and-mouse game, as Instagram has barely determined themselves what crosses the line, even under this month’s overhauled terms of service. Though the company finally granted users the right to share breastfeeding photos without being banned (a mitzvah previously reserved only for works of art), they still enforce subjective bans on things like stretch marks and menstrual blood.

I could quibble with Shah here, because I think all bans are subjective, but I’m more interested in her larger point, that what is “unacceptable” is a moving target. No one has ever been able to come up with any level of consensus community standards for social nudity, in any community.  Here’s some of the history:

Chris Donaghue, a psychologist and author of Sex Outside the Lines: Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture … advocates strongly for porn to become more acceptable, and often encourages his patients to explore their sexuality through platforms like Instagram so they can find out that their proclivities may not be as niche as they thought. “The most beautiful thing is technology’s use for shame reduction and acceptance of self,” he says.

Yet the phenomenon of sharing porn openly and brazenly is not a byproduct of our current tech revolution; pornography’s history has long been rooted in group settings.

“Viewing pornography was, at certain points in time, much more of a communal, shared experience, rather than a private activity,” says Lynn Comella, a professor of gender and sexuality studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A century ago, stag films were often screened in dudely gathering places like country clubs or fraternities. And during porn’s “golden era” in the 1970s, seeing an x-rated film was a social event.

It was only after the advent of the VCR, and then the Internet, that pornography reverted back to a private pastime.

It’s a well-known fact that any new communications or media technology will instantly become a pornography delivery mechanism, but what Shah is talking about here is not whether or even how pornography/erotica moves into a new technology, but what effect the style of that technology has on the huge social/cultural consequences of how pornography is delivered. We don’t tend to think of pornography as social (though I commend Samuel R. Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue to anyone who wants to understand the culture of the Times Square gay porn theaters of the 1970s) because we live in a time when available technology has pushed it to be largely private, though that may be shifting.

Shah talks about the appeal of Instagram in particular to people who want to share their own nude and/or sexualized images.

Why not stick to the significantly more accepting communities of Reddit and Tumblr, or even the newer knockoff apps dedicated solely to porn, such as Uplust or Pinsex, that welcome your community with open arms?

The irony is that as actively as tech powers-that-be try to keep deviance off Instagram, it’s the platform’s tech power that brings these naked sharers to Instagram over more welcoming corners of the Internet. Reddit and Tumblr can be accessed via mobile, but smartphone posting is far more laborious than on a laptop (as Rih and friends discovered). Instagram’s onboarding process is much easier—point, shoot, post—and cameras, Instagram and Kik are all on one device that goes anywhere its user goes.

Like all other kinds of content, nudity, erotica and porn will be drawn to ease of use. This is even more true because of the tendency of teenagers and young adults to embrace new, easy platforms, and the (no surprise) fascination of many people in those age groups with the boundaries of their own bodies and sexuality.

Another thing Shah brings to the table is the contrast between “for profit” and “for pleasure.” Note that the examples she gives of “for profit” are personal, which is probably due in part to Instagram policies and the likelihood that your pictures or hashtag will be removed without warning. She does mention “larger-scale pornographers” in the quote below, but she doesn’t discuss what their presence on Instagram is like.

… like most Internet porn, the quality and nature of Instagram smut varies widely. A majority of it is aggregation accounts that cull photos of naked people— generally women—seemingly out of benevolence, and those soliciting money, usually by directing voyeurs to the user’s personal webcam site. All the accounts’ photos are no older than a few hours at most, likely due to the fact that accounts featuring nudity are reported by other users and banned by Instagram almost as quickly as they’re created.

But among the hustlers and larger-scale pornographers is a sliver of individual users who simply want to share their nudes for a variety of personal reasons: fun, horniness, boredom, a desire to connect. These users are harder to find but very much there, often sharing just a handful of photos of themselves, with captions instructing other users to either direct message the poster or contact them on Kik, a messaging app that’s quickly become synonymous with sexting strangers, as users’ personal contact info isn’t automatically shared.

Maybe those are people to sext with. Maybe they’re people who share your niche proclivity. Maybe they’re even people you can talk to about your fears, hopes, desires.  Maybe they’re law enforcement, looking for illegal pictures of minors.

As the deputy sheriff of Louisa County, Virginia told [Hanna Rosin, a journalist], “Possessing or sending a nude photo of a minor—even if it’s a photo of yourself—can be prosecuted as a felony under state child-porn laws.” 

Shah herself has been changed by her research.

Whereas it used to take a stiff drink and breaks every 20 minutes to work my way through the porn archives of Instagram, I now can flit through gracefully. Though some photos are decidedly sexy, they’re no longer stigmatized for me, no longer something to frantically clear from my Instagram history. Even as a voyeur, I now feel a part of the group.

These are difficult paths, and no one: not Instagram’s policymakers, not parents of sexting teens, not the sexting teens themselves, not the journalists watching the phenomena, can really know how to walk them, or where the pitfalls are, let alone where the lasting rewards are.

Because I’m not about to go sifting through dick pics on Instagram to find out what I might learn, I’m grateful that thoughtful, nuanced analysts like Shah are out there, weaving boring repetitive flesh into conceptual gold.

Fat Kids: Truth and Consequences by Rebecca Jane Weinstein

Lynne Murray says:

People will do anything to protect their children. It is tragic when the actions they take damage their kids way more than the thing they are trying to protect against. This sad state of affairs is poignantly reported in at Fat Kids: Truth and Consequences, a collection of experiences and interviews by Rebecca Jane Weinstein, Esq., MSW.
fatkids

The national media and its paying sponsors are heavily invested in the “curing fat kids industry.” Weinstein received invitations from major media outlets to do shows promoting her book, but only if they could pile on the bandwagon. “Talk show hosts wanted to be combative about the book because they thought it would be a good show to argue about the ‘childhood obesity crisis.’” Weinstein told me in an email. “I rejected those invitations.”

Weinstein’s refusal to participate in perpetuating the toxic myths about fat children demonstrates both integrity and a deep concern for the actual welfare of children. She will not frame these kids as hapless victims waiting to be set free (for a small fee) from an evil, communicable disease.

In the childhood obesity industry, only one narrative is acceptable: fat kids are damaged goods who need to attain a mystical state of health by becoming thin–regardless of how drastic and damaging the methods. No system has been proven to reliably make fat kids thin, at least not for long. Of course, that is a plus for the diet-addiction industry. Like the tobacco-addiction industry, they are manufacturing permanent customers.

In one essay in Fat Kids, “Collateral Damage in the ‘War on Obesity,’” Peggy Elam, Ph.D., describes how we got to this state of affairs and why the “problem” of fat kids qualifies as a moral panic:

Fat is a condition of the body, not a behavior. It is impossible to separate people from their bodies. Thus the “war on obesity” is actually a war on fat people. This “war” is hurting many people, but perhaps none so much as fat kids.

The attempt to eradicate fat bodies from society is both born out of and increases moral panic. Moral panics occur when certain groups are considered a threat to society and demonized. “What about the children?” and “Save the children!” are frequent rallying cries.

“Childhood obesity prevention” tactics have ranged from improving school meals to removing certain foods and drinks from vending machines to weighing and measuring kids and sending “BMI report cards” (also known as “fat letters”) to the parents of children deemed “overweight” or “obese.” While some such actions are reasonable—who wouldn’t want good meals served to schoolchildren?—others are patronizing, such as the assumption hat parents must not have noticed their kids are fat. The overarching problem with actions taken in the name of “childhood obesity prevention” and “treatment” is that they locate the problem in fat children’s bodies, and thus identify the problem is fat children themselves rather than focusing on behaviors, environments, or situations that are problematic for all children.

Sarah Yahm’s investigative article, “Who’s the Fat Cow Now? Ethnographic Insights on the Academy of the Sierras” begins the collection.  Yahm looks into the ways that a boarding school for “obese and overweight teens” teaches eating disorders to its students.

They start with death threats.

I ask the kids … why do it? They give me a couple of reasons: “So I don’t die when I’m twenty.” “To get healthier.” “It’s important to my mom, to be healthy.” Throughout it all looms the unquestioned threat of imminent death—the kids talk as if Wellspring is single-handedly snatching them from its jaws.

But Yahm finds an even more powerful yearning:

[W]hen they’re pressed they reveal an aching desire that has nothing to do with health and everything to do with being normal: ...

“I don’t know if people are gonna, like, change the way they act towards me but I’m looking forward to coming home, and this one boy called me a fat cow and I’m just gonna go up to him and be like, ‘Who’s the fat cow now?’ because he’s like heavy and he got really heavy over the summer, and he was so mean to me, so I’m just gonna go up to him and be like, ‘Hi.’”

One kid even tells me that “fatties” should be picked on more, that society is too accepting of fat kids, that maybe taunting helps kids decide that “Oh, well maybe I don’t want to be a fatty anymore.”

The overarching lesson they’re learning is quite clear—deviance should be punished, and the only way to be happy is to stop being deviant. Losing weight is about being cool, about having friends, about winning their parents’ approval, about not being picked on.

Aggressive children also learn with dazzling speed that bullying fat kids is okay, because the adults around them are painting a targets on them. In “Fat Immunity,” Addison remembers how the 1966 “President’s Physical Fitness Test” public weigh-in changed her life from that moment on:

Addison was the heaviest person in the school. At eight or nine years old, she was 95 pounds. She knew it, and all the other kids knew it, because the weighing took place in front of everyone. Not even a shame curtain separated her from her gawking peers. And needless to say, the heaviest kid in the school, a fat girl, heard no end. She was made fun of, of course. She was terribly embarrassed, of course. She felt very fat for the first time in her life, and painfully conscious of her body, of course. And of course, that was just the beginning.

Prior to that incident, the children hadn’t fully comprehended the power of teasing; it was as if by realizing Addison was fat and telling her so struck a chord, they had a glorious awakening. They learned the intense authority of being cruel.

The bullying is only getting worse, and schools have a notoriously poor record of protecting fat children. Ben’s story, in “Between a Rock and a Defensive Tackle,” describes the difficulty of fighting bullies when schools embrace fat hatred to blame the victim:

Whatever other hierarchy existed in elementary school, the fat kids had a spot to hold up: the bottom.

Ben frequently came home crying; even with the frogs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails of which he was made, little boys have a breaking point. Still, he tried to fight back. It was school policy to report bullying to the teacher, and Ben did. He did so often—so often, in fact, that during his fourth-grade parent-teacher conference his mother was informed Ben was an unrepentant tattletale. So much for zero-tolerance on the bullying front.

The experiences of fat children tell in the book are harrowing, but the resourcefulness of many children moved me deeply.

One child’s noble actions particularly stuck in my mind. “If I Were a Hat I Would Be a Sombrero” is told from the point of view of Elaine, a stepmother who seems on the face of it to be dealing with her husband’s very fat preteen son, Paul, and his younger siblings, all of who are horribly neglected. The children always return starved, lice-ridden, their clothing in tatters from court-ordered visits to their birth mother. When Elaine and her husband finally manage to obtain full custody, they find that Paul has been literally using his fat body as a shield to shelter his younger sisters and brothers from violent attacks by their birth mother. Paul’s heroic actions cost him a terrible price. Yet all the adults could see in him was a weight problem.

My own reaction to many of the experience recounted in Fat Kids reminded me of the deep feelings  Sondra Solovay’s Tipping the Scales of Justice: Fighting Weight Based Discrimination stirred up in me when I read it.

I experience an almost volcanic rage when I read about the unfairness of victimizing fat kids and their parents. I had to ration my reading carefully, rest up, then at go at it again. But these stories need to be heard and these experiences need to be valued.

Many of these stories end with a hard-won prize of self-esteem that survivors of persecution have managed to build for themselves at no small cost. However, a notable antidote to the earnest sadness of many of the experiences in Fat Kids is a delightful interview with author and humorist, Daniel Pinkwater. “Digging Your Grave with Your Fork, and Other Things to Do for at Least Seven Decades, An Interview with Daniel Pinkwater” is one of the last pieces in the book. Think of it as dessert. His strong, self-reliant, incorrigibly funny attitude elevated my spirit.

Describing his childhood in Chicago in the 1940’s, Pinkwater says:

Q: How did you feel about being fat?

Fat was handy on the playground when it came to throwing a punch. I could put a little more behind a punch than a thinner kid, and so those few conflicts that arose—and I’d like to state for the record that I never started one of them—I could finish them pretty good. And also you could sit upon or fall upon someone. So you could use weight in fighting effectively. So it was a plus, and also it meant that some people might gravitate to one such as me for protection, because nobody would start with me, because I could put them away.

His view on doctors is similarly refreshing:

I don’t know if you have been to doctors a lot in your life, but there tend to be catchphrases that go around. If you’re seeing several doctors in a short period, you’ll discover them all saying the same formulaic things. And in this case, every doctor I was taken to told me, “You’ll be dead by the time you’re forty.” This upset my mother more than it upset me because that seemed like a ripe old age. It stayed with me, though, and I was very surprised at the age of forty when I didn’t die.

And then I realized that this was what your Scientologists call an engram, that had been lurking in there the whole time—it was errant nonsense. How could they predict such a thing? But I’d never bothered to refute it, I’d never bothered to dismiss it. And so it was just there as a given because I hadn’t questioned it. Forty-one, forty-two, I still wasn’t dead, seventy-one I’m still not dead, and as soon as I realized for sure that this was malarkey, which I would have realized immediately if I’d thought about it even, I felt very liberated.

Somehow or other, just a genetic fluke, a bright happy child. I drew the personality I got. I was lucky. I wasn’t insensitive. I was too amused and interested to buy any of this negative stuff. It didn’t stick, it wasn’t interesting to me. There was a period where I really wanted to become kind of a dramatic, tragic youth, but I couldn’t bring it off. Too many things made me laugh. Just luck.

Thanks, Daniel Pinkwater, I needed that.

When Eating Disorders Meet Eating Requirements

Debbie says:

For a person who doesn’t have diabetes, I know a fair amount about it. My partner has Type II diabetes, and so do a number of my close friends. For myself, I have been “pre-diabetic” (a term defined by your blood sugar numbers) for over eight years now, which makes the “pre” a little suspicious. My best friend for part of grade school was a Type 1 diabetic.

What I know about eating disorders is more academic. Although I have occasionally indulged in what people might call “binge” eating, I have never been anorexic, or bulimic. I’ve never been a serious dieter, though I’ve done a reasonably good job of controlling my carbohydrate intake since my blood sugar numbers started to go up in 2007. At the same time, the work I’ve done with Laurie both for our books and here at Body Impolitic has made me very aware of eating disorders, both from the personal story and the scientific data perspectives.

So I was struck by Bryce Covert’s excellent essay, “I Thought I Was Over My Body Issues, until I Got Diabetes.”

When I found out I had Type 1 diabetes, I had just finished eating a slice of pound cake. I still had powdered sugar stuck to my fingertips when the phone rang.

In the months before that phone call, I had become insatiably hungry. I would finish eating an entire meal — something as filling as pad Thai or Indian curry — and instantly want to eat the same thing all over again. This unending hunger would have brought me guilt and pain if it had struck in my teenage years or early 20s. I would have wrestled it into the back of my mind and denied it what it called out for. But by 30, I had ended that battle and agreed to give my body what it told me it wanted. And it had lately been telling me it wanted everything.

Almost without exception, this is how stories of getting over eating disorders and food-related body dysphoria end. “I gave my body what it told me it wanted.” Covert is clearly living in the culture’s body/mind division, which I theoretically believe is not the best for us, and which I find myself falling into all the time. More to the point, she had figured out that what she ate wasn’t a war, or a contest, or a secret test: it was just food.

Then there’s a quick medical stereotyping story. Despite extreme thirst, atypical hunger, and inexplicable weight loss,

… the doctor told me unequivocally that I didn’t have diabetes, despite a nurse’s suspicions. You’re too old, she said. You’re not sick enough. You’re not overweight.

“Too old” refers to Type 1 diabetes, which is generally diagnosed before a person is 20. As a quick oversimplified distinction, Type 1 is primarily about the body’s inability to produce its own insulin, and Type 2 is primarily about the body’s resistance to its own insulin. I know someone who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in her early 30s, which is “too young” to expect a Type 2 diagnosis (which shows up in your 40s or beyond). She wasn’t thin, which perhaps made it take longer to confirm that she really had Type 1. These things happen; doctors should probably not be unequivocal, and yet it’s easy for doctors, like the rest of us, to confuse stereotypes with certainties.

Covert’s relationship with dieting started when she was 12, and her belly began to bulge.

I wanted to have power over what my body looked like. I found that power in strictly controlling what went inside it. It was often, if not always, misinformed. I decided the best way to eat fewer calories was to eat less food. I would deny myself whatever I thought I shouldn’t have with the discipline of a monk. I spent one memorable day holed up in my bedroom abstaining from everything — from the moment I woke up until dinnertime — so that I could eat the unknown calories in the Chinese takeout my family ordered every Friday evening guilt-free. But the delivery that night came hours late, at which point I was close to fainting. … What I lost in strength (and pounds — the only other time I’ve been below 100 was one particularly austere summer during high school) I felt I gained in control. I didn’t care about giving my body what it needed. I cared about making my body look the way I needed it to.

That’s the key to eating disorders as I understand them; they are about control. The calorie intake, the size of the stomach, the curve under the chin–those are the outward manifestations. But in the life of a young girl with so many pressures on her to look, act and feel certain ways, and so few areas where she can make her own choices, control is irresistible. If our culture venerated size, these same girls would be counting calories with a view toward increasing them as much as possible.

So Covert worked for over a decade on this control, and then worked at least equally hard to let go, eat what she wanted, with the most valuable kind of success there is.

I began to feel something akin to what I felt as a kid: that my body was a means to an end and not the end itself.

Then, diagnosis.

… a Type 1 diabetic has to become her own pancreas. I’ve marched into another full-on struggle against myself, assuming the job of an organ that can no longer function because my body is trying to destroy it. This requires dictatorial discipline. For every given amount of carbohydrates I eat — which can be found in foods ranging from sugar to bread to beans to even milk, and which then turns to sugar in the body — I inject myself with a corresponding dose of insulin. I compute in quantities of 15: For every 15 grams of carbohydrate, I need one dose of insulin.

Aside from her own story, which is still unresolved, Covert connects the dots: girls and diets, women and auto-immune disorders, body hatred and the desire for control.

The whole thing leaves me wondering: if girls and women weren’t judged by our looks to such an extreme extent, would we have the same auto-immune disorder numbers that men do? Is there some kind of subtle, unexplored link between our pre-pubescent focus on our bodies and our adult risks? Covert doesn’t take her musing this far, but I suspect she’s asking herself the same questions.

Gorgeous Photos: Smithsonian Contest

Laurie says:

The Smithsonian Photo Contest often has exquisite and powerful photos. This year is no exception.

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Fish nets:  Pham Ty from Vietnam
Sewing the fishing net, Vinh Hy bay, Ninh Thuan, Vietnam. Photographed by Pham Ty from Vietnam
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smithsonian 4
Young buddhist novices playing in Hsinbyume Pagoda, Myanmar. Photographed by Sergio Carbajo Rodriguez from La Garriga, Spain
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From Alan Taylor in Focus:

The editors of Smithsonian magazine have just announced the finalists in their 12th annual photo contest, selected from more than 26,500 entries. They’ve kindly allowed me to share several of these images here from the competition’s six categories: The Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile. Captions were written by the photographers. Be sure to visit the contest page at (Smithsonian.com) to see all the finalists.

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Onno, a teenage girl from the Arbore tribe in Ommo Valley, Ethiopia. Photographed by Matjaz Krivic from Ljubljana, Slovenia
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Green iguana:  Lorenzo Mittig

A green iguana surfaces for air in a sea cave of the Caribbean island of Bonaire. Photographed by Lorenzo Mittig
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I really like Alan Taylor’s taste. Check out all of the photos on his site.

Beautiful or Average? We Pick Door #3!

Laurie and Debbie say:

What’s wrong with these options? Liz Dwyer, writing at Take Part, discusses “Choose Beautiful,” a commercialized “positive body image campaign” from Dove, in which “women participating in a social experiment suddenly had to decide whether they’d walk through a shopping center entrance labeled ‘Beautiful’ or one labeled ‘Average.’

Dove has been on the commercialized, dishonest “positive body image” trail since 2005, and we have been right there calling them out for just as long. This campaign, however, sets a new, even lower, bar.

The basic assumption of the campaign is that women with a positive body image will walk through the “beautiful” door, and there is something wrong with women who choose the “average” door.

If a woman didn’t want to label herself as beautiful, according to the ad, she might have low self-esteem. Indeed, in the clip we see and hear some of the women explaining their decision. … Causing a woman to doubt herself doesn’t exactly seem empowering. Yet plenty of women are applauding Dove for the feel-good-about-yourself-no-matter-what tone of the ad. There are comments across social media that the clip had people in tears. Meanwhile, other women see this latest campaign from the company as a driver of poor self-esteem.

Of course there is value in encouraging women (people!) to feel beautiful. However, there are so many ways to love your body without identifying as beautiful. Our favorite is, “I’m just fine, thank you!”

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Maybe I’m “striking.” Maybe I’m “fascinating.” Maybe I’m not the least bit conventionally attractive, but the people who know me well can’t take their eyes off me and I like what I see in the mirror. Maybe I’m beautiful in some way that isn’t generally recognized.

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Maybe I’m in some category (old, disabled, disfigured) that automatically exempts me from “beautiful.” Maybe I have some feature or characteristic that is generally considered to be not beautiful but I’ve learned to use it creatively and turned it into a form of beauty. Maybe I’m considered beautiful in my country and not in yours.

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Maybe, although Dove would be terrified to hear it, I don’t give a rat’s ass how I look. Maybe I’m beautiful in some contexts and some styles, but not in others. Maybe I’m actually “average,” even though Laurie and I don’t know what that means.

Most important, maybe I’m just fine the way I am and I don’t care about your damned door labels, or your dollar-driven social engineering.

And let’s not forget who’s doing the social engineering. Remembering that one of the five cities where this experiment was tried is Delhi,

Dove’s parent company, Unilever, has a long history of wanting some women to feel downright unattractive in order to move its products. In India, Unilever makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year selling bleaching creams for skin under the brand name Fair & Lovely. The brand’s notorious advertisements have long depicted darker-skinned women whose lives are miserable—they only get jobs or dates after they’ve whitened their faces with the product. 

So which door should these women with darker skin walk through? How about after they use bleaching creams? What would happen to Unilever’s products if they were “just fine, thank you.”

What would make more women feel beautiful, or just fine, thank you? Stop pouring billions of dollars into trying to make us worry about which door we should walk through. That would be a just fine start, thank you.

 

Want to Reduce Risk of Dementia? Don’t Diet!

Debbie says:

I know I’m not alone in being more frightened of old-age dementia than any other thing that could happen to me. Everyone is different about these things, but for me, my mind is me, and without it I do not want to survive.

That fear, a lifetime of body image activism, and my hatred of junk science combine to make this the best science news possible.

The analysis of nearly two million British people, in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, showed underweight people had the highest risk. …

Dementia is one of the most pressing modern health issues. The number of patients globally is expected to treble to 135 million by 2050.

At least by basic criteria, the science is impeccable. There were 1,958,000 subjects.

Compared with people of a “healthy weight,” underweight people (BMI <20 kg/m2) had a 34% higher (95% CI 29–38) risk of dementia. Furthermore, the incidence of dementia continued to fall for every increasing BMI category, with very obese people (BMI >40 kg/m2) having a 29% lower (95% CI 22–36) dementia risk than people of a “healthy weight.” These patterns persisted throughout two decades of follow-up … [quotation marks added]

In other words, it’s not just that low BMI correlates with greater dementia, but higher BMI, well into the categories that modern medicine continues to describe as “morbidly obese,” correlates with even less dementia. The difference between having an “underweight” BMI and an “obese” BMI is a 54% (!) reduced risk of dementia. That’s a gigantic number.

Of course, BMI is and always has been a bullshit benchmark. Also of course, the scientists are thrown for a loop by their own findings, because they went in assuming that fat would fry your brain, just as their counterparts continue to insist (against evidence) that fat destroys your body. They really have to grasp for their “faith sentence” here, and what they came up with is:

… the findings were not an excuse to pile on the pounds or binge on Easter eggs.

“You can’t walk away and think it’s OK to be overweight or obese. Even if there is a protective effect, you may not live long enough to get the benefits,” he added.

We know from other large-population studies and analyses that this isn’t true.

Of course,  no one is suggesting that these results suggest that low-BMI people should try to gain weight. Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that either; people find their own weight and everything, including dementia risk, has multiple complex factors. But you do know what they would be saying if the study had gone the way they expected!

For me, I will continue to live the way I live, to follow my doctor’s advice (“Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it”), to appreciate my fat body, and I will breathe just a little easier when fear of dementia sneaks up and ambushes me.

Exquisite Kimono

Laurie says:

I saw these exquisite kimono at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco this week. I have seen kimonos this beautiful in museums in Japan but not in the US before. The delicate complexity of the work in stunning in itself, but the way the asymmetry creates balance in the designs is what I love best. I know from my own work just how difficult and satisfying it is.  Examine each robe closely.

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Red Kimono

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Red Kimono detail: the design is stylized clouds and wisteria
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Cloud Kimono

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Cloud Kimono detail: the design seems to include water, lilies, cages and clouds.
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Raven Kimono

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Raven Kimono Detail: the design seems to include flowers, crows and nets.  I love the crows!

Some of these are as old as 250 years. They were serious luxury goods of their time.  The technical skill is only surpassed by the art.  I find the work inspiring. Again, examine them closely.

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