The wonderful Stephanie Armstrong has agreed to be featured in an interview here and I’m soliciting readers’ questions to submit to her. I blogged about Armstrong last Friday — she’s the author of the new memoir Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia. Armstrong — now a recovered, married mother of one in her mid-40s — documents her descent into bulimia in her early 20s and describes her struggles as a black woman with a disorder consistently portrayed as a white woman’s disease and why black women often do not seek traditional therapy for emotional problems. The work is being hailed as the first book by and among black women about eating disorders. For more information, see Armstrong’s website.
The interview format will be 10 questions. Do you have a question you’d like to see answered? Post your burning questions in the comments below and it may be among those selected.
Newsweek’s coverage of fat-related stigma and stereotypes last week is enough to make this die-hard Time news junkie want to take out a subscription. These links have been circulating on on the Fatosphere and elsewhere all week and I already tweeted links to them a few days ago, but I think that they warrant a dedicated post here, too.
America’s War on the Overweight (It’s interesting to note that this surprisingly insightful article was co-authored by Abby Ellin, also the author of Teenage Waistland. Ellin was sent to fat camp by her parents who wanted to “save her” from her fatness. When those efforts proved counterproductive, she developed a lifelong interest in how they might have done better and an abiding compassion for fat kids.)
In conversations on body image and eating disorders, black women are often left out of the debate– it’s assumed that by virtue of their skin color, black women are somehow rendered immune to those ubiquitous pressures that plague white women (I would argue that the reverse might also be true: that because of racism, black women are even more conscious of and sensitive to how they present themselves and are perceived by others.) Here’s a round-up of recent news that shows that while no one ethnic or cultural group has a monopoly on eating disorders and/or body image insecurities, distinct social forces act in altogether different ways in influencing the self-esteem, health and happiness of women of color.
Remember the study from a few months back in which it was found that black girls and girls from low-income families are more likely to develop bulimia than their wealthier white counterparts? Playwright and screenwriter Stephanie Armstrong is helping to fill a gap in the noticeably lacking eating disorder memoirs genre with her new book, Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia. Armstrong — now a recovered, married mother of one in her mid-40s — documents her descent into bulimia in her early 20s and describes her struggles as a black woman with a disorder consistently portrayed as a white woman’s disease, as well as why black women often do not seek traditional therapy for emotional problems. The work is being hailed as the first book by and among black women about eating disorders.
The Boston Herald has some background information on the project here and be sure to check out Armstrong’s website at www.notallblackgirls.com. The book, released Aug. 1, is available online at Amazon.
Check out the trailer below for Chris Rock’s new documentary Good Hair, set for release in U.S. theaters on Oct. 9. The comedian extraordinaire was inspired to take a humorous look at the tangled political web of black women and hair after his daughter Lola came up to him crying and asked, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”
For more on the the snarled politics of black hair, check out Dianne Longwood’s awesome post from last month. As she explains:
Few of us are truly at ease with the coarse hair texture that comes courtesy of our African roots. In the beauty spectrum, our natural hair isn’t even on the map. Given the option, most Black girls would gladly wake up with a full, flowing head of hair instead of the short, hard-to-grow variety that is often our birthright.
Men like hair, so women who don’t have much of their own go buy some. To be called fake sends the message: If you’re not born with it, you’re not worth it. This is reinforced when some Black people use now-common terms like “good hair” to describe hair with texture as far from African as possible.
Vogue Italia hoped to piggyback on the success of last year’s Black Issue by featuring a fashion spread of black Barbie dolls in its July magazine. The spread is, no doubt, inspired by Barbie’s 50th anniversary and comes on the heels of the introduction of Mattel’s new line of So In Style African-American Barbies that feature fuller lips, wider noses and curly hair. Vogue’s spread and the new black Barbies are meeting with mixed reactions from some black bloggers.
…I like the concept of using all Black Barbies in a Vogue spread. But I have to wonder if it is actually a step backwards. Barbies themselves use the white female body as a the prototype for beauty. Even the new Black Barbies do not have the hips, ass and curves that myself and other Black women possess. It’s great that Mattel has barbies of all shade, but what about all sizes? What taking into consideration that other races and ethnic groups have different ideas of what women’s bodies actually look like? The fashion industry often creates fashions, ad campaigns, and yes, even Barbie photo spreads that leave Black female bodies out of the equation and therefore, out of the question when defining what a “perfect body” looks like and who is able to possess it.
Aside from the appearance, the doll’s interests are both fun and scholarly—one doll prefers science and drill team while another one likes art and journalism. The dolls come in pairs of big and little sisters to encourage mentoring relationships.
They may not be mirror-perfect, but they come closer to the fantasy than my childhood playthings… I would want these dolls for my daughter.
Share your own comments, related links and personal experiences in the comments below.
Bryce Conway is a working mom of two and a partner in Cognitively Correct, Inc., a self-publishing company of books that promote positive learning skills. Conway is a published co-author of the manual How to Speak with Your Preschooler About… Food & Nutrition, the workbook The Dots Connected – A Relativity Theory on Integrated Human Development and the text Connecting the Dots: The Cognitively Correct Way to Speak with Preschoolers. Her latest release is a children’s book titled My Mom is FAT! (that’s Bryce and her two kids on the cover). The 24-page illustrated children’s book features photos of Conway and her two children, 8-year-old Sydney and 5-year-old Spencer, and other illustrations that show both mom and child how they are loved and loving regardless of how they look or what they weigh. As Bryce writes in her release, “It’s time to start a new generation of children who are exposed to a positive way of thinking about their body and how it’s all about their abilities.”
My Mom is FAT! will be available beginning Aug. 31 online at www.mymomisfat.com and in local bookstores, but first Bryce takes the time to answer some questions about the project for readers of the-F-word.
What inspired you to write the book?
The inspiration for writing this book was quite simple. My daughter not so long ago turn to me and said “Mom you’re fat”. To which I responded “And do you love me any less?” This simple question put an entirely new perspective on the word FAT for me and how I felt about myself. I knew I had all sorts of other abilities and that it needed to be shown that your life and who you are , are all about your abilities irregardless of the physical state in which you find yourself. Though, it is an indisputable fact that the adjective Fat does aptly describe my physical state – It no longer effects my mental state. I am Fat which is to say the opposite of thin and that is all of the emotion I now give power to this particular word. I, of course, instructed my girl that since the term fat can be hurtful to other people, we should only use it to describe objects or animals.
How do children typically react to fat parents, both to their own and their peers’?
Children react to people the way they have seen their parents react!!!!! If their parents treat “fat” in a derogatory and disgusted way either about someone else or themselves their children will, too. Children’s body image starts in the preschool stage of development and are established by kindergarten (I believe NPR did a segment on this). It naturally follows suit then that the only place children learn about body image is from Mom & Dad.
What do you hope children (and parents) get from this book?
My hopes for the individuals who read this book – to create a future generation who has different options about how to think of their own body. The total ancestry of humans have only known one way of thinking about their body – a negatively critical way. You would be quite hard pressed to find even 1 person who looks in the mirror daily and says “I LIKE THE WAY I LOOK!”, let alone “I love the way I look.” Most people have something about their body they look at with a negatively critical eye. So, children have very little chance of escaping that judgment (in the guise of bettering their lives and for the good of their children). Even if, a parent never directly criticizes the child – they inadvertently set the negatively critical eye in motion when they (the parent) themselves look in the mirror and criticize themselves in front (or within earshot) of the child.
The good news: Peta has removed its highly offensive “Save the Whales” billboards. The bad news: They still don’t quite *get* it. Here’s part of Peta’s response to the hordes of complaints they received about the campaign:
The original billboard is being replaced with one that says “GONE. Just Like All the Pounds Lost by People Who Go Vegetarian. GoVeg.com.” We agree that a world where self-esteem is unrelated to body size would be a wonderful place, but we also know that most people feel depressed and embarrassed about their weight and often need some tough love.
While this billboard has caused some people to “shoot the messenger,” it has also created a great debate about the message: that people are eating themselves to death. Americans now eat more than 1 million animals an hour—animals who are raised and killed in appallingly cruel conditions. Something drastic must be done to shake up society’s complacent acceptance of the national obesity epidemic, and we want people to know that they have options: Pills and procedures are not the solution. The human illnesses and animal suffering that a meat-heavy diet causes are completely unnecessary: a pure vegetarian diet is the optimum diet.
So, according to Peta’s circular “logic,” a world in which people feel good about themselves and their bodies is awesome, but until then we’re going to shame and ridicule them — for their own good, of course!! I actually agree with part of Peta’s second statement above — animals raised for slaughter die a brutal, inhumane death to satisfy our selfish palates with no benefit to health to be gained by the slaughter — but I don’t think that this campaign has created the kind of “message” Peta intended. Instead it just reinforces the stereotype of the angry, self-righteous vegan killjoy and proselytizer who cares more about animals than people, therefore further setting back any progress made by other and more sane animal rights advocates in convincing a meat-loving public that a vegetarian diet is the healthier and more humane choice. If Peta can’t be humane to their fellow humankind, how do they expect to convince anyone to be humane to animals?
Perhaps People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is a misnomer for Peta. How about People Effecting Terrible Absurdity? Or People Engendering Tawdry Actions? Anyone have any other clever synonym suggestions?
Senator Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy died last night after a prolonged battle with brain cancer. Often called the “Lion” of the Senate, Kennedy’s accomplishments are many and his storied legacy reverberates worldwide, but most poignant here is Kennedy’s record on women’s (and other civil) rights and universal health care. Most recently, Kennedy introduced legislation to eliminate wage discrimination for women and minorities and to stop job discrimination based on sexual orientation; opposed downgrades to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and served as part of a committee that last month delivered a health care plan with a public option that would cover 97 percent of Americans.
Tributes to Kennedy are pouring in from both sides of the political aisle. Here’s an especially poignant one by DNC Chairman Tim Kaine:
“For his efforts to ensure civil and voting rights for minorities to equal rights for women, Senator Kennedy was a champion. For providing health care to millions of our nation’s children to fighting for the cause and rights of workers and organized labor, Senator Kennedy was a hero. For working to improve education and educational opportunities for children and college students to fighting for the security and dignity of older Americans, Senator Kennedy was an icon. And, for his career-long pursuit of quality, affordable health care for every American, a cause he was devoted to until the very end, Senator Kennedy was an inspiration to millions of Americans who are fighting today for that just cause.
“In the Senate, he was called the Lion. To the Democratic Party whose values and ideals were embodied in and shaped by this great man, he was a giant. To the American people, he will be remembered as one of the greatest and most accomplished legislators in American history…”
Please use the comments section to discuss your own remembrances of Kennedy and his record.
I had to rush my big fluffy gray cat Grayson to our old but close vet yesterday. He was standing all bunched up and looked a bit like Cujo with watery saliva dripping from his chin and emitting a low growling sound. The vet took one look and pronounced his urethra blocked. He worked on him for the better part of an hour and was unable to catheterize him and began discussing the need to make “quality of life decisions,” so I quickly shuttled him to the new vet we’ve been going to, who was much more optimistic and willing to exhaust all medical possibilities before throwing in the towel. This is the same vet who came in on his day off to check in on my bunny, who suffered a cut during his neutering, and he worked on my Grayson last night until almost 9 p.m. (the office closes at 7 p.m.). The blockage is high in Grayson’s urethra and the second vet was also unable to catheterize him. When they did an ultrasound, they also detected fluid on his chest and a possible heart murmur. So, now Grayson is with a third vet, a board certified internist, to determine if the blockage is crystalline, in which case surgery can be done to remove it, or a mass, which would indicate cancer and thus limited options. He already has all the vet techs in all three offices in love with him.
I’ve had Grayson for eight years now and he’s the sweetest, most lovable of my five cats. My sister discovered him in my parent’s garage where his mother, a sweet stray cat we named Ginger, had snuck in and had kittens. Grayson was the most beautiful of the litter, a tiny gray ball of fluff, and I had to fight my mother for two weeks for him. Despite his decidedly male gender, she insisted on emasculating him with the name “Gracie Gray,” so when I took him I compromised by naming him Grayson. Fellow pet owners usually need no explanation of just how firmly these little four-legged creatures can entrench themselves into your hearts and lives, but you can read about just how special my furbabies are to me here.
I’m pretty mentally and emotionally exhausted now, so I’ll probably be AWOL until this is resolved. Good chi gladly accepted on Grayson’s behalf.
Reader Rebecca sent me the email (below) asking for suggestions on non-triggering, feminist crime and detective fiction works. I am an avid bibliophile, but considering that for the past several years, I haven’t reach much of anything that wasn’t listed on a syllabus, am probably not the best person to ask. I’ve been making up for lost reading time since my June graduation, but the fiction I gravitate towards tends not to be the hard-boiled kind. I offered Rebecca a few suggestions of crime authors I read a long time ago and vaguely recall to feature strong female leads — Patricia Cornwell and Mary Higgins Clark — along with a recommendation from a friend — Sue Grafton. Anyone else have any other author suggestions? Here’s Rebecca’s email in brief:
My younger sister has recently begun treatment for her eating disorder at a residential facility. Here’s my dilemma: she’s asked me for some reading recommendations (crime/detective fiction particularly) but I’m having trouble finding books in that genre that
a) feature strong female heroines and b) don’t pander to some sort of fat bias or mention dieting/disordered eating.
I’m pretty ignorant about the genre (mostly reading poetry these days) and I’m hoping you or your readers might have some suggestions. It needn’t necessarily be books that overtly talk about fat acceptance, just ones that don’t promote a disordered or unrealistic ideal. Any ideas?
In what is being hailed as a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, a Pennsylvania mom is suing Pittsburgh Public Schools claiming that her daughter developed anorexia as the result of being bullied about her weight by a group of male students, and that the school did nothing to stop it. The federal lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of an unnamed mother states that the woman’s sixth-grade daughter began to be bullied in 2006-07 by three boys who called her “fat.” ABC news reports:
The girl was in a program for gifted students, made straight A’s and was active in community and volunteer programs, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit contends a guidance counselor did nothing to stop the bullying. The next year, in seventh grade, two other boys joined in the daily harassment.
“Some other students tried to shame the boys about the conduct. However, no faculty member or other school official intervened,” the lawsuit said. By February 2008, the girl entered an inpatient treatment program for anorexia nervosa because “her weight was dangerously low.”
The girl’s mother contends school officials harassed her when she tried to home-school the girl, who now attends private school.
If Columbine and the sad case of Megan Meier has taught us anything, it’s that bullying is nothing to be taken lightly. But, as in the case of the Columbine shooters, to say that bullying (or video games or absentee parents or black trenchcoats) are to blame for behaviors taken to extremes is an oversimplification, at best. From the lawsuit, it appears as if this girl was a prime candidate to develop an eating disorder anyway — many with anorexia are standout students with type A personalities, as Lynn Grefe, CEO of NEDA, explains in the ABC report:
“With eating disorders, we say you’re born with a gun and life pulls the trigger,” said Grefe, who has never heard of a school being sued over such a scenario.
Generally, people who develop anorexia already have issues with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive or perfectionist behavior. Bullying could trigger anorexia in those people but not others who are taunted about their weight, Grefe said.
“The person’s often a real high achiever, and if you put those people in a situation and then their world comes crashing down, they get triggered,” Grefe said.
The fact that these circumstances behind the filing of the lawsuit existed at all is tragic, especially if the school knew about the bullying and did little to nothing to stop it. Weight-related bullying may not in itself cause anorexia, but from personal experiences, it can result in depression, poor self-esteem, emotional issues, bad grades etc… One of the primary reasons I participated in a post-secondary program (in which I attended college classes) my senior year of high school was because I wanted to get away from what was for me daily harassment about my weight. I won’t say that the harassment itself caused my later eating disorder, but it was certainly the largest motivator in my decision to begin dieting, which rapidly escalated into anorexia and bulimia.
Fortunately for the mom, she doesn’t have to *prove* that the bullying caused her daughter’s anorexia. She filed the suit alleging the school’s failure to protect the girl under Title IX, a federal anti-discrimination law. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the past that peer-on-peer gender harassment violated Title IX if the school should have stopped the abuse and a student lost an educational opportunity as a result. And regardless of whether or not the bullying caused anorexia in this girl or if the disorder simply lie dormant in wait of a spark, a 12-year-old girl was attacked daily for two years because somebody thought she was fat and deserved to be punished for it. I guess we can only be glad that she ended up in an inpatient treatment program and not the morgue.
I find this so frustrating, because we don’t seem to grasp the reality that most women are not going to be both really thin AND well-endowed without surgical enhancement. Sure, some women are naturally built that way, but not many, and to have this expectation that women will be both really thin but then also well-endowed and not showing too many bones when naked is so oppressive. I guess I’m less surprised at people gasping at how thin a naked actress is than at the fact that many of them think the same actress looks just perfect when clothed.
I thought of Lori’s comment when I read this story about the svelte actress Keira Knightly who was airbrushed several cup sizes larger in the latest campaign for Coco Mademoiselle perfume. Keira, whose slimline form certainly fits the Hollywood mold but whose cleavage is decidedly lacking by Baywatch standards, has had her busoms digitally altered twice before: in U.S. posters advertising her 2004 film King Arthur and again for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. On her latest digital breast augmentation, she told the UK Telegraph:
“They painted my **** on me for the films, which is extraordinary because it’s kind of a dying art form. In the past, they used to have whole sections of the studios devoted to bosom make-up. And I loved it, completely loved it. Because it was the first time in my life I had big **** and I didn’t even need surgery,” she said.
I think it’s worth noting here that A) even “perfect” women aren’t “perfect”; and B) even “perfect” women don’t think that they’re “perfect.”
Keira’s latest photoshopping comes as the British parliament furiously debates airbrushed advertising in magazines. As part of a new policy on women’s issues, Liberal Democrats have suggested that all images be accompanied by a messaged indicating if they have been doctored. The party is also calling on the Advertising Standards Authority to ban altered pictures on publicity material aimed at the under-16 crowd and insists that cosmetic surgery advertisements and information leaflets be required to also carry success rates. An ASA spokeswoman responded by saying that such a regulation would be infeasible as “all ads are altered and enhanced.” On the other end of the spectrum, Vogue editor Alexandra Shuman has said that her magazine frequently has to Photoshop models to appear larger and healthier because because the unrealistic sizes sent to them by designers had forced them to hire models with “jutting bones and no breasts or hips”
In the U.S., of course, any similar attempts to regulate the airbrushing of images would be met with indignant cries about free speech! and Orwellian censorship!. But is the digital manipulation of images so very different from already regulated Big Tobacco campaigns that target children?