Tag Archives: youth

Greening a Food Desert

Debbie says:

One aspect of body image we don’t often talk about here is what foods people have access to, and how “healthy food” is distributed. So I was struck by this article, which I found in a local news feed for my city (Oakland, California).

Youth entrepreneurs smile for the camera before deliveries.


Pictured above are three young food activists/entrepreneurs in West Oakland. I suspect that one of them is Jamelah Isaac, the focus of the article, but they aren’t identified.

West Oakland is a neighborhood with a remarkable past and a very sad present. In its heyday, it was the center of superb labor organizing, in part by Ronald Dellums, Sr., who was a mainstay of the Pullman Porters Union, one of the great historically black unions. Dellums’ son, Ronald Jr., went on to be a U.S. Congressman for many years, and then mayor of Oakland. Since I’ve lived in the Bay Area (for nearly 40 years now), West Oakland has been rundown and neglected. Recently, it’s had one of those sketchy unpleasant “renaissances” where some sections are gentrified, where foreclosed and abandoned homes are replaced with spiffy rentals, where people are displaced. (Opinionated about this? Me? Naah.) However, many many poor and disenfranchised people still live in West Oakland, which is why I got excited about this article.

Jamelah Isaac and her friends are doing a very exciting thing–they are converting the local liquor stores, which we all associate with poor communities, into sources of fresh, organic food. And they are doing it by borrowing a successful model:

The HNSA Entrepreneurs follow the “Frito-Lay or Coca-Cola model,” Cedeno said. “All the store owner does is pay the bill. The youth put up the shelving. Take out any waste. Replenish the weekly order. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the store owners.”

If you’ve ever gone into a convenience store and noticed how much the easily movable shelves which hold all the chips and bagged snacks, or the cold compartments which shelve soft drinks, look like the ones in the last store you went to, that’s because the corporations supply them to stores, free of charge, to get their products front and center. Using this model for organic produce in “food desert” neighborhoods is both clever and transgressive.

I’m excited that Jamelah and her cohort are working in my city!

Aging is (Not) Unnatural

Laurie and Debbie say:

Cross-posted to Feministe. All photographs by Laurie Toby Edison.

Some photos below may not be okay for office viewing.

After our introductory post on Feministe last week, Daisy Deadhead asked if we wrote about age as a body image issue, since we hadn’t happened to mention it in that post. Great question!


We think age is a crucial body image issue, especially in this culture. On the one hand, we have the multi-million dollar “beauty” industry and ad agencies all striving to squeeze every dollar they can out of making us hate our bodies. On the other hand, we have the medical establishment frantically trying to make every human variation into a medical condition. Aging is just about the most fruitful area either of these groups can pick on. Contrary to all of this noise, aging is normal.


Used to be, “aging” started somewhere around the 40s. Now, especially for women, “aging” starts before you’re 30. Since the only definition of “hot” is 25-or-under (and often younger than that), you’re out of the race. (Some of us don’t think we need to run, but for millions of women, it’s terrifying.) Is anything sagging? Is your skin starting to change texture? Toning equipment and skin creams are there to solve your problems.


Not too much later, the doctors get into the act. “Perimenopause” has been completely medicalized, and is basically treated as a chronic condition. Once you’re past it and into menopause, then the complicated question of hormones has to be addressed. Some doctors are starting to recommend that men replace their (naturally decreasing) testosterone as an anti-aging supplement.

It’s not like the corporations take a vacation while the doctors get busy: natural changes in your aging body are subject to both commercial and medical attention. The Botox providers need money, as do the labiaplasty doctors who will make women’s pubes look young again. Cosmetics and plastic surgery for men are becoming more and more popular all the time. Executive face-lifts for both men and women are common. The exercise machine manufacturers and the gyms don’t just talk about health and fitness: they also talk, constantly, about youthfulness. (By the way, this keeps people out of gyms in droves. Many people would exercise more if they didn’t feel like failures because it never makes them look younger.)


Whether or not you follow all these rules, buy all these products, work at looking young, inevitably (unless you are seriously unlucky) you’re going to get to a point where you’re not looking young any more. Then what you’re really supposed to do is disappear (although active versions of people your age will show up on TV all the time, buying Depends, and energy products, and other commodities). A few years ago, we were at a BlogHer session, and one of the presenters asked people to name the identity you felt most uncomfortable revealing. Women were talking about everything from being Jewish to being queer, and everyone was nodding. Laurie raised her hand and said, “I always talk about my age, which is 62, even though it sometimes makes other people uncomfortable.” For the rest of the weekend, women kept coming up to her, thanking her, and telling her how brave she was. Announcing her age in public was clearly a much more transgressive act than talking about sexual orientation.


Everyone who lives long enough ages. Everyone’s body changes as they age. While there’s a certain amount of general predictability to the course of aging, the specific changes are very variable from person to person. Some of them are difficult to cope with; others are not. Some people stay healthy and active into their 90s; others don’t. Youth does not have a monopoly on beauty.

Like so many other body image issues facing us today, it isn’t aging that’s the issue, it’s how we treat aging.