It’s tiring to be female in this world. I can only speak from a cis-perspective, of course, but it occurs to me, that howsoever you come to identify as a female, there is an endless list of things you must have or prevent if you are to present acceptably as female.
First it was thigh gap, that space between a woman’s thighs — the wider it is, the thinner and more desirable the women. Then it was the concave navel. Now we have a new one: hip cleavage, or what I knew as high cut underwear or swimsuit bottoms to show off the hip bones.
We are all familar with the term cleavage as associated with breasts. Plunging necklines in dresses are designed to show off cleavage. There are right ways and wrong ways to show off cleavage in the upper body.
Too much in the wrong way means you end up with sideboob reveals; too much in the right way means you may risk a wardrobe malfunction and subject unsuspecting bystanders to a glimpse of the “girls.” These days, the focus, and perhaps the parts in question, has shifted to the underboob (I can hardly wait to see if there is an upper boob!).
Regardless of the terminology, the prinicpal issue is that women continue to be divided into parts. Perhaps it’s the legs (although it and the toes had cleavage back in the day). Let’s not forget the butt or the breasts, with fashion dictating whether they were perky, ample, lean or sleek.
When I used to deliver media literacy sessions to high school students, we would talk about the techniques used to separate, disconnect, and isolate girls and women from their bodies. Instead of being seen as whole, unique individuals with our own kind of beauty, women and their bodies are broken into parts and given meaning and value by others.
The obsession with thinnness as a beauty standard has fueled anxieties and nurtured the development of eating disorders; sadly, girls and women continue to starve themselves to fit a largely artificial construct of “female” beauty.
In Canada, those of us who work in health promotion talk about the vitality message — eat well, be active, live smoke free, and support mental wellness. Being active offers tremendous health benefits and it makes me sad to see fitness being used negatively to coerce women into creating and maintaining a body shape that is not natural to them.
Focusing on hip cleavage is just another stick we use to bash away at ourselves. It’s a stick handed to us by the arbiters of fashion and trends (I keep meaning to ask, who died and made them the rulers of the universe?) and quite frankly, I’m tired of it all.
We need to rewrite the script and start talking positively, frequently, and loudly about all the good things we can with our bodies: how strong our legs are to drive our bikes and our feet on our runs; how powerful our arms are so we can lift, wheel, and strike; how big our chests can be to ensure we can take in the oxygen we need to keep going; how wide our hips can be to birth children or to cuddle them.
We are enough as we are. In fact, we always were. Let’s remember that.
— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.
I don’t love Walmart. I don’t love Cosmo Magazine. I really don’t love what Walmart has done with Cosmo Magazine in 5000 locations in the good ole’ USA. Sam brought this article to our attention on our contributor discussion page and said, “Blog fodder. Do feminists agree with conservatives on this one?” I swear sometimes she says stuff just to get me riled up enough to write a blog. . .oh. . .wait.
So in a nutshell, Cosmo will not be available at the checkout where all the precious minds of little girls might get polluted with its sordid sexual content. Dawn Hawkins of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (Formerly known as Morality in the Media) claimed it as a victory of her organization’s own making, referencing #metoo as the inspiration for this action. Walmart made a vague statement about it being a “business decision” in which it “consulted” with unnamed entities. Cosmo isn’t being banned. It’s just being moved.
Honestly, do I care? I hate Cosmo. I mostly hate it because it over promises on the sex tips. Here’s an example, “7 Best Sex Positions for Female Orgasm“. It says these tips will “guarantee to help you orgasm”. But you know what? That’s bullshit. I’ve tried every one of them. I want my guarantee! They get me every time and dash my hopes. But you know what else is in there? This gem about the fight to include women’s choice into Obamacare. There’s also this one about my current favourite teen that isn’t related to me, Emma Gonzales, and the photoshopped picture of her ripping up the bill of rights.
When Sam asked if feminists agreed with conservatives, I will confess to having a trauma trigger. It all goes back to a time in 1990. I was a young impressionable law student and I read Catharine MacKinnon. For those who are too young to remember, these were troubled times in the feminist movement (I mean, when aren’t there troubled times). There was a general agreement that pornography, as conceptualized by the patriarchy, was not great for women. It was not about our pleasure, it was not about our agency, it was not about our actual bodies. It was about our function and that function was to arouse and get off men. That’s objectifying. That’s an impoverished view of women and women’s sexuality. But in the hopes of doing something about it, feminists teamed up with the “moral majority” of conservative evangelical politics. They argued for an end to the scourge using legal tools and in the process, did a terrible disservice to a lot of women, including me. In this discourse, sexuality became even more of a source of shame and, as happens, marginalized sexuality took the brunt of it. Somehow the mainstream porn industry continued to thrive while it was harder for alternate voices to get in there and change any of these narratives. Things didn’t get better for women as a result of this unholy alliance because it got hijacked by the more powerful partner in the endeavour. (This is an admittedly uncomplicated summary).
Meanwhile I wasted 10 years of my life not doing fun sexy things that I wanted to do because I thought it would make me a bad feminist. Did those well meaning white lady anti-porn feminists mean for any of this to happen? Of course not. But you can be sure that the folks like Ms. Hawkins would be pretty pleased that I stayed away from all that perverted hanky panky I was trying not to think about.
So, back to beleaguered Cosmo. I wish it was not such a trashy mag. I wish it portrayed more real bodies. I wish the sex advice was better. But other than that, it’s not the worst. They have stopped putting diet advice on the cover. There is a lot in the magazine that speaks to women’s agency. That it reports on celebrity gossip is not a thing that should banish it to the back shelves. I’m curious if that trashiest of trash piles the National Enquirer can still be found eye level with the kidletts? Likely. The hypocrisy is beyond the pale.
A brief perusal of the website of the NCOSE indicates that its main focus is on enforcing and strengthening obscenity law, educating young people about the dangers of overconsumption of porn, prohibiting the exchange of sex for money and somehow “stopping the demand for purchased sex”, I guess through the punishment of being caught (?). While their goals are around the protection of women and vulnerable young people, their tools involve repressing the material, not educating or empowering the victims in the ways I think are helpful. Their aims are also decidedly not sex or sex work positive. I guess that’s where we differ, me and Ms. Hawkins. Cosmo is imperfect, but it is somewhat educational. It reflects reality. NCOSE targeted Cosmo because it is a somewhat sex positive liberal trash mag. I will take that over a sex negative conservative mouth piece of a shameful president any day of the week.
But while the chocolates are often the yummiest part of my day, chocolates are not necessarily the healthiest thing I could eat. That’s fine by me. I didn’t choose them for health reasons. I was looking for the yum. They’re a treat
Chocolate isn’t evil but it’s not exactly a health food ether. Here’s the nutritional facts.
So these are an occasional treat, not a health food. I don’t eat them as meals. They’re pleasure. An indulgence.
Maybe that’s a bit fast. Isn’t it dark chocolate supposed to be good for all that ails you? I have friends who eat dark chocolate to help with the common cold. Others who swear it helps with arthritis.
They talk about the rebranding of chocolate as a health food and how that occurred.
“Recent years have seen chocolate undergo another transformation, this time at the hands of branding experts. Sales of milk chocolate are stagnating as consumers become more health-conscious. Manufacturers have responded with a growing range of premium products promoted with such words as organic, natural, cacao-rich and single-origin. The packets don’t say so, but the message we’re supposed to swallow is clear: this new, improved chocolate, especially if it is dark, is good for your health. Many people have swallowed the idea that it’s a “superfood”. Except it isn’t. So how has this magic trick-like metamorphosis been achieved?”
So chocolate is supposed to help with blood pressure, dementia, stroke risk and the common cold but the problem is the quality of the research which is almost all funded by the chocolate industry. Go read the Guardian story for details.
…If you’re buying into the health washing while rationing nibbles as your reward for sticking to a soul-destroying diet, just stop. Eat a mostly healthy diet, and then when you feel like eating chocolate, you eat the shit out of it. None of this “I’ll just have a square of dark chocolate now and then” bullshit. Get some fucking Turtles, or a Caramilk bar, or a Crispy Crunch, or one of those triangle shaped Toblerone things. Get a Jersey Milk and dip that sucker in the Skippy peanut butter and say, “Mmmm … G-M-Oh-my-God-that-tastes-good.” Eat your favorite chocolate and LIVE, DAMMIT!
But I’m also interested, as a philosopher who writes about children, in our cultural ideas about children and food. I’m interested in our romantic ideas of children as “natural eaters,” on the one hand, and as out of control eaters, wantons, on the other. Think Cookie Monster! We project a lot of our ideas about childhood onto child aged eaters.
In the context of food and dieting, our fear of childhood obesity makes us want to control childhood eating because of this idea children have no willpower and at the same time there’s this popular parenting idea that if we left children alone to graze, they’d make nutritious choices and never eat too much. Both ideas, I argued, in the talk I gave at Vermont are mistaken.
As usual the truth is somewhere in between. As is often the case popular views about children aren’t really about children. They’re about adult preoccupations and fears that we project onto children. We either idealize them or make them int our worst fears. Nowhere are contemporary parenting debates more fraught than in arguments about what and when to feed children. My kids mostly missed the great juice box wars but I don’t envy today’s parents.
Children aren’t that different from adults. It’s not that we corrupt them and that they start out as natural intuitive eaters. Children prefer sugar, fat, salt when given healthy and unhealthy choices to choose from, and will not choose healthy foods automatically. Given healthy food choices they are pretty good at moderating amounts.
Many people swear by Ellyn Satler’s moderate advice to parents which involves a division of responsibility between parents and children. Parents are responsible for choosing what foods to offer and children choose how much and whether to eat.
On her view, the parents are responsible for providing regular (healthy) meals and snacks, cooking and preparing the food for young children, serving it to children, and making the family eating experience pleasant. Children are responsible for deciding WHAT they want to eat on their plates, HOW MUCH they eat, and WHETHER THEY EAT at all.
My worst time as a parent worrying about food was when I had one child who was significantly underweight and another who was significantly overweight. I actually had a family doctor suggest that I prepare the kids different meals. You know, skim milk for one kid and whole milk for the other. He even suggested that I send the overweight child to bed early and offer the underweight child cookies and ice cream while watching videos. I looked at him asked, do you even have children?
Instead, I continued (mostly) preparing family meals and letting the kids choose what they ate. In their teens one pursued ballet and modern dance, the other rugby and football. You can guess which one did which. Today, in their early twenties they are both of normal weight though at the opposite end of the range. But even if one did end up “too thin” and one “too fat,” I hope I’d have the peace of mind and commonsense to recognize that bodies come in lots of different shapes and sizes. They’re my children after all.
I want to tell my friends with young children to relax. Children aren’t perfectly pure creatures that you need to worry about spoiling but neither are they monsters who you have to control.
Are you a parent of young children? What’s your approach to feeding children? Do you worry about their food choices?
Yet, I can see the attraction. We know adults find it impossible to lose weight. That diets don’t work is a regular theme here on the blog.
Still, many people who agree that there is not much we can do about adult obesity other than helping people not gain weight in the first place, view children as the front line in the “war against obesity.” The thought is that if we can stop obesity either before it develops or in its early stages, we can avoid the health problems associated with overweight and obesity.
(Added: For those who don’t know the blog that well, I’m using talk of “obesity” and the “war on obesity” even though I think these are very problematic. See Catherine’s post with which I agree, “Obese” is a bad word—it’s got to go. I’m doing it because I think that even if that’s your framework you shouldn’t endorse dieting for children.)
What’s the problem then? Couldn’t children who are looking for help, who struggle with their weight, find some sensible advice at Weight Watchers? It’s got to be better than the semi-starvation plan that got me through high school. I lived for years on coffee, cigarettes (and, this was the 70s and 80s, we didn’t know better) bran muffins. We know lots of older children and young teens try wacky diets. At least Weight Watchers is all about regular food and includes all the food groups.
The big problem is that while common sense seems obvious, it’s actually not clear what works. “Eat less, move more,” sure, and what could be wrong with that? (James Fell says it’s bullshit and he makes me laugh.) But we don’t have a very good grip on the causes of obesity. Nor do we have a very good handle on what works to reduce childhood obesity. It’s definitely not as simple as “eat less, move more.”
If a medication had the same success rate as dieting—where ‘diet’ is behavior aimed at producing a calorie deficit by eating less and moving more—and a similar track record of bad side effects (including significant weight gain), there is no way we’d prescribe it to anyone, let alone children.
You might think who would recommend shaming, anyway? But bioethicist Daniel Callahan outright advocates shaming in his opinion piece, “Obesity: Chasing an Elusive Epidemic,” Hastings Center Report 43, no. 1 (2013): 34-40.
What about labelling without shame, simply describing overweight and obesity without judgement?
However, even telling children they are overweight has bad effects
“A recent study by researchers at UCLA found that if girls had been called “too fat” by someone by age 10, they were more likely to be “obese” at age 19, and that the more people who told her she was “too fat” the more her chances of being “obese” increased. The study included controlled for income, race, childhood weight and puberty age.” See here.
Girls who are told by a parent, sibling, friend, classmate or teacher that they are too fat at age 10 are more likely to be obese at age 19, a new study by UCLA psychologists shows. The study looked at 1,213 African-American girls and 1,166 white girls living in Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., 58 percent of whom had been told they were too fat at age 10. All the girls had their height and weight measured at the beginning of the study and again after nine years.
Overall, the girls labeled fat were 1.66 times more likely than the other girls to be obese at 19, the researchers found. They also found that as the number people who told a girl she was fat increased, so did the likelihood that she would be obese nine years later. (These findings appear in the June 2014 print issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics and are published online April 28.)
“Simply being labeled as too fat has a measurable effect almost a decade later. We nearly fell off our chairs when we discovered this,” said A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and the study’s senior author. “Even after we statistically removed the effects of their actual weight, their income, their race and when they reached puberty, the effect remained.”
See also “Adolescent Dieting May Predict Obesity and Eating Disorders” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2006.
One other suggestion is to decouple inactivity and obesity and focus is on the inactivity side of the equation. There are obesity related reasons to care about inactivity but that’s not the only reason. There are also good reasons to decouple them. Efforts at improving activity (and nutrition) shouldn’t be measured solely in terms of impact on obesity.
There are no studies showing harmful effects of increasing children’s activity levels. Thin people need to move more too and overweight and obese people shouldn’t quit exercising if the scale doesn’t move
I think a similar focus on nutrition and developing a healthy relationship with food would be good regardless of its impact on weight and BMI.
But until we have a good handle on the causes of childhood obesity I think that guilting parents and shaming children has to end.
We know diets don’t work. We know body shaming doesn’t work. It turns out that even naming the problem makes it worse. Children who are told they are fat by friends, family, doctors are more likely to gain weight.
So what to do?
First, don’t take them to Weight Watchers.
Second, help them learn to appreciate the bodies they have and the things that these bodies can do. Make movement fun and joyful.
Third, help children learn to cook at home and make family meals happy occasions.
The American Academy of Pediatrics new guidelines (see here) on dealing with weight and kids suggests getting rid of body shaming, weight talk, and dieting because it predisposes kids to eating disorders and to eventual weight gain as a result of disordered eating. Since the old way of trying to eliminate obesity tends to make people more prone to illness, there are also new guidelines including emphasizing exercise and nutrition, NOT body size.
Scrolling through Facebook, as one might in an airport departure lounge (okay, who am I kidding, as I do everywhere) I burst out laughing when I came across this post from the blog’s Rebecca Kukla:
“Notorious Christina Van Dyke points out (“Eat Y’Self Fitter: Orthorexia, Health, and Gender,” 2018) that if you google image ‘orthorexia,’ the only image you get of a man is of “a very thin, non-standardly-attractive man with painted-black fingernails and tattoos looking anxious and holding an avocado.” This has had me giggling for days. I hereby share the image of troubled tattooed skinny avocado man, who now has been joined, I should note, by troubled tattooed skinny apple man, also here pictured.
Overwhelmingly the images are of ‘pretty’ young white women dressed in white happily drowning in implausibly huge piles of fruits and vegetables. Our culture is SO WEIRD. SO WEIRD PEOPLE.”
Here’s the images:
Image of a very thin white man with dark hair, glasses and arm tattoos and a white tshirt with blue type on it contemplating an avacado
A very thin young white man with brown wavy hair, wearing a cream tshirt with an an image of a tree stares quizzically at an apple
Here’s Christina Van Dyke’s abstract of her paper:
“Attitudes toward healthy eating and dietary choices are increasingly important components of how people conceive of (and judge) both themselves and others. This chapter examines orthorexia—a condition in which the subject becomes obsessed with identifying and maintaining the ideal diet, rigidly avoiding foods perceived as unhealthy or harmful—and it argues that the condition represents an extreme manifestation of sociocultural norms that people are all being pushed toward. These norms are highly gendered, however, and women and men are thus sometimes portrayed as if they were striving toward radically different goals in the elusive quest for perfect health. Yet what makes orthorexia destructive to both men and women is ultimately a common urge to transcend rather than to embrace the realities of embodiment. In short, orthorexia is best understood as a manifestation of age-old anxieties about human finitude and mortality—anxieties that current dominant sociocultural forces prime people to experience and express in unhealthy attitudes toward healthy eating.”
Because the 80s is my cultural home, here’s The Fall, Eat Y’Self Fitter:
They’re now marketing to children, offering free classes with parent’s permission. See here.
Rebecca Scritchfield writes,
“Weight Watchers this week announced its plans to offer free six-week memberships to kids as young as 13, beginning this summer. The company’s move is part of a bigger plan to grow revenue and a loyal customer base for life. (Start ’em young, right?) As a health professional and mother, I am appalled. With celebrity names such as Oprah Winfrey, who is on the board of directors, and DJ Khaled, the latest spokesperson for Weight Watchers, the company is on track to exert powerful influence on people far and wide. Kids will undoubtedly pay a heavy price for this “free” membership, in the form of body shame. It will not only affect those who participate, but also every other teen who is exposed to the message that some bodies are “problems,” and if you’re at a higher weight, your body needs to be fixed. Thus, kids of all sizes will have something to fear.”
There are many problems with this plan but even if you just care about weight, it’s a disaster.
Study after study shows that early dieting is a huge predictor of weight gain.
I’m one of those kids who joined Weight Watchers and attended with my parents’ permission. I’m not sure if and how that contributed to future weight gain but I do know that I wasn’t really that chubby when I started.
I also know it made me think of myself as someone whose weight, whose body, was a problem to be solved. Best tackle it while you’re young, people would say.
It did start the habit of dieting that persisted through my teens and twenties.
What do you think of Weight Watchers, diets, and weekly weigh ins for children?