Tag Archives: woman

Women’s Lives: Chapter 1

Sex: classification of individuals as female or male based on their genetic makeup, anatoy, and reproductive functions.

Gender: means that societies and individuals give to female and male categories.

Sex roles: sometimes used to refer to culturally prescribed roles for men and women. Gender roles may be more appropriate.

Similarities approach/beta bias: men and women are basically the same in intellectual and social behaviors. The only differences are due to socialization rather than biology. Has origins in work of early 20th century women psychologists.

Differences viewpoint/alpha bias: emphasizes differences between women and men. These differences have been thought to arise from essential qualities that are rooted in biology. Also known as essentialism.

Has root in Western and Eastern philosophies.

Liberal feminism: belief that women and men should have same political, legal, economic, and educational rights and opportunities. Reform.

Cultural feminism: belief that women and men are different and that more respect should be given to women’s special qualities.

Socialist feminism: attitude that gender inequality is rooted in economic equality.

Radical feminism: belief that gender inequality is based on male oppression of women

Patriarchy: male control/dominance over women

Women of color feminism: view that both racism and classism must e recognized as being as important as sexism

Racism: bias against other because of ethnicity

Classism: bias based on social class

Sexism: gender based bias

Advertisements

Runaway Eating

Started a new book . . .

vanilla-cake-ABFOOD0706-dePart 1 of chapter 1 of Runaway Eating: Not for Teenagers Only

Eating disorders is a disease widely known as a teenager problem. Maybe it’s a surprise to find out that eating disorders are not just for teenagers. Midlife women suffer from it. Right now, a disturbing trend involves these older women seeking treatment for eating disorders.

RunawayEat AmzLThe book Runaway Eating by Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., and Nadine Taylor, M.S., R. D. takes a good look at this trend. They also include an 8 point plan to help conquer this kind of thinking. (I will not go through the 8 point plan because there’s a lot of books to read.) This book, is, however, designed to help the reader make informed decisions about health, and is not a medical manual by any means. And if you are suffering from an eating disorder, it’s best to seek a doctors help rather than to turn to a book alone.

The authors define Runaway Eating in the introduction as “consistent use of food or food-related behavior (such as purging or excessive exercise) to deal with unpleasant feelings, and feeling that these behaviors are out of control.” The writers think of this problem as a sort of pre-eating disorder because while the behavior doesn’t match the symptoms of a clinically-defined eating disorder like bulimia nervosa, this disordered eating is marked by a very unhealthy relationship with food.

Often, this behavior is the result of using food to run away from problems.

3533308065_ddc7e89da2Runaway eating runs rampant through society. However, using food as a solution for your problems is no solution at all, as women find out.

Nadine Taylor, a registered dietitian and coauthor of this book, suffered from a mild form of an eating disorder. She was bulimic, yet conquered it.

Runaway eaters are people who otherwise appear to be normal and in control of their lives, yet who have unhealthy relationships with food or their bodies that could interfere with personal relationships, threaten their quality of life, and set them up for future health problems.

By using food to run away from our problems, we find that our eating habits run away with us.

Go on any Xanga blogring or Facebook group devoted to people with eating disorders. You’ll see that they’re populated with young women and teenage girls as young as eleven. You don’t see a whole lot of people older than 30. We’ve heard of the Princess Diana’s bulimic tendencies, and all the young actresses who starve themselves.

However, the people over 30 with this problem are growing. They consist of women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even older! There’s a dramatic increase in women seeking out treatment. It could be because of the growing availability of such programs, and the decrease in the shame of having an eating disorder. Hard statistics are hard to get, because most women don’t seek help until their troubles become unbearable.

diet pills

diet pills

A full-blown eating disorder develops gradually. It doesn’t suddenly appear. Eating disorders range from mild to severe. Most women have a mild form of disordered eating.

Many with eating problems had eating disorders that they never shed when they were young. According to a review, half of those with anorexia and at least one third of those with bulimia carry their problems into early and middle adulthood. However, many women are developing an eating disorder for the first time in their lives. Why?

Maybe it’s because today’s typical midlife woman is more concerned about her appearance. She works outside to home, and worries about being passed over by younger people for jobs, power, attention, and raises. She dislikes being seen as an old grandmother, and may have a fear of aging. Due to changes caused by menopause, her waistline may increase. She’s more likely to seek help for depression.

The most important factor, though, is the stressful life that she leads.

Next up: the many stressful situations a midlife woman faces.

Corseted beauties

Part 2 of Chapter 1 of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

This section is a short history of eating disordrs.

You may ask if eating disorders are nothing new. Have they been along for a while? Really?

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

The famous French heroine Joan of Arc had anorexic tendencies. She starved herself to make a point, not because she was obsessed about her weight. Greek feasts involved bingeing and purging. This, however, was debauchery rather than bulimia.

However, during the 1870s, doctors in France and England were faced with a group of girls who rejected food altogether. The doctors were stumped over what to call this condition. Eventually, France won with the name “anorexia nervosa” which is used to this day.

The pictures that the doctors drew of these patients are eerie.

A proper Victorian lady

A proper Victorian lady

That was during the Victorian era. Perhaps it’s not surprising that that period marked the birth of modern eating disorders. Control and thinness were characteristics of wealth and beauty. Ladies had to be restrained (no screaming and running around. No indulgence! Eat daintily, don’t stuff yourself) and thin, with tiny corseted waists. Meat was considered carnal. The perfect lady had to be prim and proper. The picture on the right is an excellent example of one. Note the tiny waist.

pinksateen3These tiny waists were produced not merely by restraint in all things food, but with a corset, not unlike this antique corset.

The word “image” first appeared in American girls’ diaries in the 1920s. In this period, movies became an obsession. Actresses changed their identities and looks faster than people could keep up.

All the same, anorexia was not familiar until much later. Even in 1965, the term wasn’t used often. Eating disorders weren’t talked about. They weren’t normal. Strange. Rare. They were not seen as a disease but rather an exotic condition that only some different people got.

Karen Carpenter

Karen Carpenter

One of the first public memories related to this disorder  is of the singer Karen Carpenter. By the fall of 1975, she only weighed 80 pounds. She collapsed on a Las Vegas stage and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Carpenter died in 1983. It turned out that she had heart failure due to complications of the illness. Her heart was weak from the years of restriction, and a sudden weight gain of 30 pounds strained it further. The coroner gave the cause of death as “heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa.”

The 1980s was the era of fitness and food obsession, Martin continues. It was during this period that eating disorders became more common. The famous actress and fitness trainer Jane Fonda produced many fitness videos during this time. It was unknown that her fit body was the result of obsessive exercise… and… bulimia.

Back to the present. Eating disorders are nothing new, that’s true. But now they take an extreme form which is unique to this present age. It’s not just restricted to rich white women, but to anyone. Black women and Latina women have eating disorders. So do working class mothers.

Oprah

Oprah

At the same time, excessive exercising, plastic surgery addiction, and laxative abuse are common things. They’re no longer something that’s normal or not rare. Celebrities like Tara Reid are covered by the media. Diet and fitness, not wellness or authentic health, are upheld. Even Oprah is freaking out about her body. We’re conditioned to believe that the barrier between us and perfection is us.

This is a very modern and dire epidemic. While this world professes to give more rights and powers to those who have been formerly oppressed and persecuted, this world is sicker and more broken. Oprah started a school to help African girls learn empowerment and skills for the working world. At the same time, she stresses out about her appearance and binge-eating episodes. Her person trainer, Bob Greene, once remarked that Oprah had never learned what it means to be happy.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

We see our mothers, aunts, and sisters hate themselves and their bodies. We learned from them.

The cycle continues.

The 7 million diagnosed with eating disorders is merely the tip of the iceberg. This book is about that borderline behavior. The behavior that’s hard to diagnose, yet involves self-hatred and depression. It’s not normal. You were never meant to live this life full of self-hatred, sadness, obsession, and depression. This cycle is taking away from the quality of life that you could have. It’s taking away our freedom.

We’re not our bodies.

Marti talks about a friend who was asked how she was. “I’m fine, just feeling fat.”

“But how are you?” the therapist persisted.

“What do you mean? I already told you.”

mountain-top-meets-cloudsFinally, he explained. Our bodies are not us. Bodies are only one aspect of who we are. We make the mistake of identifying ourselves with our bodies. That’s why we tell ourselves that life will be good once we lose the weight. The fact that we are not our bodies means that life will not improve.

To a lot of us, it doesn’t matter if we have a great spouse, a successful career, lovely friends, and a beautiful home. If we’re 5 pounds above the desired weight, we’re unhappy.

We’re cheating ourselves out of a full life. What’s the use of getting three degrees if you’re going to spend a chunk of your time obsessively thinking about the shape of your thighs? That’s too much time. We only have 24 hours a day. We could be bettering the world. We could be doing so much more.

Waiting to be Filled

I started a book, but never finished it because I felt that it was too heavy. And it made me depressed for a while because it didn’t talk at length about the solution to the problem but rather focused on the problem itself. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it just didn’t suit me. I recommend this book to anyone struggling with an eating disorder. I really think it’s a good book. Just heavy and packed with information.

400000000000000052548_s4Also, I’m not feminist. That’s another thing.

Here’s what I wrote. This is just from reading the introduction.

The book is titled Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: the frightening new normalcy of hating your body by Courtney E. Martin. You can check out the writer’s website at www.courtneyemartin.com. This book was published fairly recently, in 2007.

Martin writes in the introduction that eating disorders affect more than 7 million American girls and women, 70 million people worldwide. Over half of the females between ages 18-25 surveyed would rather be mean or stupid. Anything but fat. A survey of parents found that 1/10th of them would abort their child if they found that he or she had the genetic tendency to be fat. (Thanks, Mom and Dad. They were your genes to start with.)

She states that we live in a time when getting an eating disorder, or at least being obsessed over weight, is thought of as a rite of passage. The writer talks about her many friends who bought into this kind of thinking. They sound like my friends. Many women use what they put into their bodies or/and the amount of exercising they do to define their worth.

It is not our kindness, or courage that we count at the end of the day, it is our calorie intake.

310967011_2dcab45a8bI, too, know people with really screwed up ideas about health and fitness. There are the girls who believe that any food is bad and that they have to exercise to get the Tic Tac or chip out of their system. There are my friends who daily post stats on how much they eat per day. Their limit is 210 calories. Not per snack. Not per meal. For the whole freaking day, they restrict themselves to 210 calories. What goes in those 210 calories? An apple.  A 60-calorie lollipop. That’s it. It’s not about eating healthy, it’s about eating less. Then there’s the miserable girl who eats food – lots – when she’s depressed, and then purges it later.

I know girls in my church who struggle with this as well. There’s one who exercises often. She’s 13, goes to the gym, and does weights. In front of people, she talks about how fat she is, and picks at her food when eating in front of others. She always worries that she is too fat, even though everyone else could tell her that she isn’t.

364637840_761d56792dIn fact, I recently talked to one who was stressed out about her homework. She’s 12. She said she was eating like a pig and was fat. I told her she wasn’t fat. “Ask your big sister,” I said.

She replied, “She says that I’m fat.”

I think this kind of thinking is so ingrained in our culture that we cease to notice it.

Martin puts it well when she writes that we’re not apathetic, we’re distracted. What about the starving children in Africa? I’m thinking about whether to have a granola or skip lunch altogether. She continues that we can’t see the the needs of others because we’re too busy looking at ourselves in the mirror. We don’t want to go to the beach because we don’t want others to see us in bathing suits. It’s all about us and how we feel.

What can we do about it?

This is a social problem as well as psychological. Some people believe that this is normal. I say that our culture must be pretty messed up, then. I knew a bulimic girl who wrote on her public food diary, “I don’t want to be normal. I don’t even know what normal is.” It seems that “normal” nowadays means women and girls stressed out about what goes into their mouths.

3346503419_5ede7a6039

Something you should eat and not compare your body to

Martin says that womanhood “was about something solid and beautiful right in the core — a vulnerable yet unbreakable center of strength and openness.”

I can identify with that. That sounds like the definition of a woman from the Christian book Captivating. Except that God is our core.

Martin continues,

At the center of most of the young women I know today are black holes.

On the outside, we’re busy and active. On the inside, we’re crumbling. We have these holes that we try to fill with anything and everything. But they’re still there. We’re starving, because the distractions are never enough. We’re just not enough. Not good enough. We have no control.

131_BlackHole

Black holes at the center of us

Our ultimate goal is “effortless perfection.” We’re to be everything we’re supposed to be, without showing any apparent effort. Of course, this is impossible. I know another girl who said, “I want to be able to fast for days at a time without struggling. I want to be able to have no desire for food. I want to be able to stay skinny without such hard work.” Effortless. Perfection.

The perfect part really does get us into trouble, either with an eating disorder or with an unhealthy obsession with food and exercise. It really turns out to be such hard work.

The truth is, we waste a lot of time on our bodies. How much time do we spend thinking about what to eat when we could be organizing a fund-raising event devoted to some cause?

Martin puts forth the mission of this book: a call to action. She wants this book to move us to admit that we are sick, but also tired of  being sick and ready to do something about it.

530700707_9580740548

The price she paid was her dancing.

Note that this isn’t a purely American problem anymore. I remember the ballerina from Denmark. She had been struggling with anorexia for some time. The disorder came to a point where her bones were too weak for her to stand on her toes. I’m a ballerina too, and to stand on your toes, you need to have very strong bones. Because of the disorder, the calcium was steeped out of her bones, leading to brittleness. She loved dancing. Really loved dancing. But what could she do? This was the price she paid, and she felt that she couldn’t do anything about it.

There was the girl form Brazil and the girl from Taiwan. There was the girl in Spain and the girl from Wales who messaged me on facebook begging for help. There was also the girl from Qatar, a country so tiny that people don’t even know it exists.

The Independent, a London paper, reported that 1 million in Britain have eating disorders.

Martin closes the introduction by saying that she believes “in the possibility of a world where a girl doesn’t learn to count calories at the same age she learns algebra.”

That’s the world I’m fighting for, now.

2763031373_188f1d4abe

Heavy Makeup

Part 3 of Chapter 10 of the book Looks

106376261_ukhTN-S-3Consider those addicted to plastic surgery. These are the people who risk their lives and spend millions to chase after what Dr. Patzer calls artificial perfection. They are the people who appear “abnormal” but look forward to their next procedures.

There’s the case of the 34 year old porn actress “Jen X.” She had Botox multiple times, a chin implant, and breast augmentation. She reported to Hustler magazine that she was afraid that she was getting addicted to plastic surgery. She still pays monthly for silicone injections to her lips, a highly illegal procedure which is fraught with danger. She knows, but is driven by the need to compete. Jen X said, “The more surgery everyone else gets, the more I have to get to keep up.”

Only in your mind, sadly.

There’s also Rhiannon, a woman in quest for bigger boobs. Her breasts now weigh 10 pounds each. That’s 20 pounds total! Talk about back pain. Their size is 48MMM. This began in 1991. She has had 30 surgeries on her right breast alone. 

There’s something about my personality that big is never big enough. If I’m going to do it, I’m going all the way.

She added that she wants still-larger implants.

Another good example is the Beverly Hills realtor Elaine Young. In 1979, she saw a silicone injection in the face of a friend and wanted it. She went to her friend’s doctor, who told her that he’d make her beautiful. That was all she had to hear.

At first, Young was pleased with the results. However, the silicone migrated and interfered with her facial nerves. When the doctor tried to remove the silicone, the surgery left the left side of her face paralyzed for two years. Young blames her silicone injection for the downfall of three of her six marriages. The doctor who injected her committed suicide.

brokenwindowYoung said,

It’s typical insecurity that leads women to [cosmetic surgery]. I don’t care what they say; most of the women who do it are either aging, and they want to look younger, or they’re very insecure.

Read the entire, original Hustler article here.

Many people addicted to plastic surgery suffer from BDD (as written in an earlier post). They often look for ways to deal with an imaginary or trivial defect in their appearance. They can spend lots of time and energy picking at their skin or looking into a mirror. Or wearing a hat or heavy makeup. An article in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology reports that as many as 3 million Americans may have this disorder. Among them are those with the money and resources to pay for countless surgeries.

A spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons said that there are some well-balanced people who have many surgeries. But at the same time, another group is not happy with whatever you do.

katharine_hepburn1

Katharine Hepburn went to see him after her bout with skin cancer

Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc sees these addicts frequently. His practice has attracted notables like CEOs and even Katharine Hepburn. Most of his patients are the ultrarich who live in opulent homes near his offices. His book describes the reality of dealing with a society that more and more wants to be perfect in appearance. Some patients lie about their medical histories. Some lie about the  medicines they’re taking.

One male patient was taking steroids but wouldn’t tell me. He wanted a facelift and nothing would stop him. I’ve never seen a patient’s face bleed so much in my life.

Scalpel_smallIn cases like this, says Lorenc, the plastic surgeon is to refuse to do surgery. He gives another example, this time of a guy who thought he had an awful acne scar. Dr. Lorenc saw nothing. The worst thing he could have done would have been to operate, because then the poor guy would have had a real scar.

Maybe we are growing into a culture that is endlessly fixated on appearance. Seeing media images refuels and reinforces the notion that physical attractiveness must be had at all costs.

A Beautiful Disaster

Chapter 9 of the book Looks

File0444Have you ever seen the billboards by the side of the road glorifying a sculpted male body? Or the covers of Men’s Health magazine… or the washboard abs perfume by Abercrombie and Fitch… or the steroid pumping body builders…

Men have their own set of problems. These are termed the Adonis Complex. Due to the slew of idealized male physiques everywhere they look, many men are insecure about their appearance.

Harrison J. Pople, Jr. and Roberto Olivardia of Harvard Medical and Katherine A. Phillips of Brown studied anything from action figure toys to Playgirl spreads to body builders and concluded that the U.S. media presentation of the male ideal is a very very muscular body.

Our very own GI Joe

Our very own GI Joe

It started with our familiar G. I. Joe. These researchers noted that the action figure in 1964 was unremarkable. Sure, he was trim and athletic, but rather ordinary in that respect. By 1991, he became pumped up like a body builder. Sadly, this also happened with the Star Wars action figures of Han and Luke. In 1978, they appeared unexceptional but trim. In 1995, they appeared to have been drinking a morning cup of steroids with their breakfast cereal. As a Star Wars fan, I was horrified to hear about this development. What’s next, bulked up Wicket?

15-20 years back, if you wanted a current issue of a fitness or body building magazine, you would have to live in the big city. Even so, you were limited to two or three publications. Now, just run down to the nearest convenience store and you’re bound to find at least five. As any freelance writer for magazines will tell you, fitness and health are big topics nowadays. People want to read about how to get healthy, but they also want to read about how to gain muscle. As a result, this is the holy grail of freelance writers. 

abercrombie-billboardWhat about the billboards? This Abercrombie and Fitch billboard is an excellent example of what you might find.

Dr Patzer says,

Buy a copy of almost any general-interest magazine and you are treated to bare male chests, rippling muscles, and tanned, chiseled, hairless forms.

Don’t forget the romance novel covers! Some time ago I published something mocking this trend. You may find it here. You’ll see that shaved pits really are the way to go.

 

 

 

Rich Herrerra, a male model for Cosmo

Rich Herrera, a male model for Cosmo

 

 

Cosmopolitan magazine is one of those magazines that seem to be mainly about sex from their front covers. They offer tips on how to do it right, how to get good results, and how to get a good man. They also illustrate their articles with pictures. All the male models are happy,  hairless, and naked.

They are also buff. Pope and his colleagues found that the number of naked males in Glamour and Cosmo had tripled from less than 10% in the 60s.

dumbbellsAlong with these findings, Pope and his researchers interviewed men suffering from what they call “muscle dysmorphia,” which is sort of like “reverse anorexia.” While an anorexic girl looks at herself in the mirror and sees fat even though she is shrinking, a male with this disorder looks at himself  and says, “Not buff enough,” even though he may have muscles where no man should have muscles. A fellow whom they called “Kevin” believed his own arms were sticks even though his body bulged with muscles in strange places. He became a near recluse because of this disorder.

These three researchers concluded that American men are being manipulated. They are exposed to more supermuscular images, all in service to diet aids, fitness programs, hair-growth remedies, and anything in between. These industries prey on men’s insecurities, and can be compared to how women are being preyed upon by the media.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an intense preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance. It seems to arrive during adolescence or young adulthood. It may also coexist with other conditions, like social anxiety or OCD. The only effective course is psychiatric or psychological counseling, along with anxiety medications.

Those with this disorder are only a small fraction of the population, but millions more devote an inordinate slice of their time to worrying about appearance, notes Dr. Patzer.

LS015824Barbara L. Frederickson of the University of Michigan did two experiments to document the psychological costs of raising girls in a culture lik eours.

One study revealed that what a woman wears can heighten her preoccupation with how her body looks. This is at the expense of her mental performance skills. It’s not just low-cut dresses or bikinis that may cause this preoccupation. Any clothes or circumstances that make her feel self-conscious have this power. It reduces the mental energy that she could use to solve calculus.

evening-20dressAccording to this researcher and social psychologist Tomi-Ann Roberts, the tendency to value physical appeal and sex appeal as body identity rather than their health, strength, energy, etc leads to more than an eating disorder or diminished mental performance. It could be linked to high prevalence of depression and sexual dysfunction among American women.

As we have seen, the mass media has had a huge effect on fostering attitudes about physical appeal. They’re enormously influential in governing what we say and feel about ourselves and our appearance.

From Kurt and Gladys Lang’s essay “The Mass Media and Voting”:

The mass media forces attention to certain issues. They build up public images of political figures. They are constantly presenting objects suggesting what individuals in the masses should think about, know about, have feelings about.

So my theory that we also listen to what the media tells us to do wasn’t so far off after all.

Dr. Patzer concludes that ill health offsets beauty benefits. However, people would be willing to sacrifice their health or money to improve their physical appearance.

As an anorexic acquaintance wrote on her blog, “I don’t care if this kills me. At least I’ll be beautiful.”

A Tragic Case

In the realm of the “right-to-life” movement, the case of one woman made headlines and sparked debates all over the country and even overseas. 

The Terri Schiavo case was one that caused a great deal of controversy. I know I remember it vividly. Her life and death stirred an uproar about issues like “right-to-life” and whether it was okay to take out the feeding tube of a person in a vegetative state and let the person die. Was it more humane to let the person continue living in such a state, with no hope of recovery? Or not? These issues led a lot of people think about what they would want if they were ever in such a condition, and to mark their choice in their will.

Terri Schiavo before it happened

Terri Schiavo before it happened

What I didn’t know at the time was that Terri Schiavo had had an eating disorder. She was anorexic. Terri had been severely overweight in her teens, but lost 65 pounds by the time she graduated from high school.

Sadly, her condition became so serious to the point where fitness and fasting were obsessions. Some time later, Schiavo limited herself to mostly liquids. Whatever food she ate, she forced herself to vomit.

Her family later said that while they worried, they didn’t know how quickly Schiavo’s health could deteriorate… or how dangerous it was for humans to starve themselves. As a result, they neither challenged her nor sought medical help for her condition.

Terri after

Terri after

In 1990, Terri went into a coma. Her doctors said that this was likely caused by an imbalance in blood potassium levels. Her liquid diet was flushing this mineral out of her body – a condition that eating would have remedied.

Eating wasn’t something she wanted to do.

Schiavo never recovered. Soon she was found to be brain dead. A lengthy court  battle came about, and it became a national tragedy, states Dr. Patzer. 15 years later, Terri Schiavo died on March 31, 2005. She was 41.

164177_f260The debate that ensued made it clear that eating disorders were poorly understood by the public. After this case, science made progress in understanding them.

Following Schiavo’s death, the Daytona Beach News Journal published an editorial that pointed out that the state and the federal had failed to educate the public about eating disorders. They continued by saying that teenage girls should be informed about this trend, and suggested that parents and teachers learn to recognize the warning signs. Insurance companies and public health agencies should broaden their medical coverage to include treatments for eating disorders.