Be the food you wish to see in the world.

I’ve never spoken about this publicly before.

After a month of feeling ambivalent towards my health, my work, and whether or not it would actually be preferable for the crash of civilisation to just hurry up and happen so whoever was left could start again, I read something that made me feel a bit better. I wrote the writer a letter because maybe someone else’s writing could make her feel sane, too.

PS: while we’re on food, we really need to sort out the food and agricultural industries. Have you seen them?! They’re completely fucked. If anyone works out how, please email me. No wonder I find it so hard to eat properly, when they make it so difficult. – Ed.

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Caroline –

I just read your article on Adios Barbie. You might have just saved me from a long road back, or at least helped nudge my tunnel vision off track.

I have had various, and almost constant, eating disorders since I was twelve, and they came to a head about three years ago. At that point, I sought therapy and at the same time went to the library to read up – I found a book called ‘When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies‘, which was a mouthful to keep repeating to my Mum when I frequently enthused about it, and which outlined the ideas of both emotional and intuitive eating (which I’d never heard of before.) It helped me to dedicate myself to the beautifully messy art of eating whatever I needed and whenever I wanted, and I even became a sometimes happy and joyful person in the process (which you should be impressed by, because I’m a neurotic, middle-class anxious person by nature, down to having glasses very similar to Woody Allen’s [I was prescribed those, they aren’t natural.])

My weight subsequently levelled out by itself, a few times – in the latest of these level-ings last month, I didn’t even notice. I’ve just fallen quickly into a new relationship with a man I might well love forever, and to discuss all the fear that comes with being happy because someone else temporarily exists, I went to see an old friend I needed to catch up with. She quickly noted my recent weight loss (she is one of the few who I told of my eating disorder when it got really bad, and is often attentive to changes in my appearance [not always helpful – though, of course, well-intentioned]) and almost immediately I was thrown into a hyper-vigilant state of weighing myself ‘just to check’ and ‘out of curiosity’, privately adamant I would not put anything back on because ‘this is how much I weigh now’, accompanied by the physical sensation of sugar coursing through my veins any time I ate anything wheat-based.

The most perverse part of this turn in the last few weeks has been the genuine belief that eating small amounts of very healthy food (the bare minimum I need to stop my heart from palpitating and my mood spiralling, of course) will protect me from freaking out about putting on weight, and having to fully restrict.

I’m dieting to ‘protect’ myself from having to diet.

One half of my brain watches all this pain unravel from the luxury box seats in my psyche, knowing it’s all bullshit, feeling superior, facilitating it all the while; the other really desperately wants to feel ok again, and doesn’t understand why that feeling suddenly left me, and craves sugar, and uses my eyes to stare at the mirror while using my hands to hide remaining body fat to see what I could look like if I ate and exercised ‘properly’, and knows I’m not emotionally exhausted I’m just lazy, and craves sugar, and so bakes loads but then can’t bring itself to allow any eating of the cake. God I crave sugar. Maybe I WILL have a cake or five. And maybe then, in desperation, get rid of the four of them my stomach hasn’t digested yet.

Then I read your article, and remembered some things I’d forgotten.

I’ve just completed my first feature film (zero-budget, quite an achievement), I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been physically and mentally, I’ve just fallen in love, and I’m doing some really important work right now both personally and professionally. All of this potential for massive failure (sorry, I mean, really good things happening to me THAT ARE COMPLETELY OUT OF MY CONTROL, *breathes*) is terrifying, and each day it’s uncertain whether my confidence is going to drive me at speed to exactly where I need to go, or crash around my face in that far-too-real and embarrassingly visible way it does.

I love the Cherokee tale of the two wolves, the lesson being ‘the one that wins will be the one you feed.’ Guess I’m going to have to feed myself if I want to win.

(That sentence looks as though it’s written with resignation. I feel it needs an addendum:)

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Victoria sponge cakeEgg and pastaRoast dinner Thank you. Good luck. Elizabeth

Beauty That’s ‘Real’

swimsuit ad“Love the skin you’re in!”

“Real women, real beauty.”

“Beauty at any size!”

You’ll likely recognise the above phrases, which, rather than necessitating quotation, were plucked from my arse. I mean mind. (Bum/mind/waist-to-hip ratio; telling the difference is as hard as it is futile.)

Such clichés are the mantras of the body-positive ‘movement’: a barrage of messages women have been receiving via advertising campaigns and glossy magazines in recent years; a compassionate and diligent deflection against beauty standards imposed by advertising campaigns and glossy magazines, in the preceding and, indeed, same years.

On the Huffington Post this week, ‘Health Coach and Emotional Eating expert’ Isabel Foxen Duke posted an astute article titled ‘Why ‘Love Your Body’ Campaigns Aren’t Working’. Highlighting the above paradox of the media and beauty industries, she notes that growing up:

“I would see images of “real women” and think to myself, I don’t want to be one. I wanted to get ahead, stand out, be special”.

I have previously written about the cause-and-effect of the wondrous ironies of body-positive rhetoric, but recently the debate around Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign, and Duke’s article, have illustrated not only the need to pay close attention to the reinforcement of damaging standards and ideals in the very conversations that purport to combat them, but also the need to discuss this double-standard when you see it, continually, until it takes hold.

I know the experience Duke describes to be that of many of the brilliant and big-hearted women who get behind the body-positive movement, and they do so with much strength and determination. It feels like a transformative shift in understanding for those of us who are highly body-critical, and is potentially the first step towards making one; logically, we ‘believe’ it, as a rule for ‘all women’, especially those we love around us; but most desperately we attempt to finally stamp ‘PWNED!’ on dusty, neglected certificates of self-worth.

Yet via these campaigns, fully grasping self-worth is essentially impossible. We still want to compete to get ahead, stand-out, be special; as though we have to fight each other for these scarce statuses. Our society’s structural misogyny is underpinned by the individualism promoted under capitalism, which works to prevent us from collectively understanding and willfully departing from forces which restrict us. True acceptance and transcendence from the pain and damage of the beauty myth is engulfed by a two-fold fallacy.

Firstly, the mainstream idea of body acceptance is borne at least in part from a market drive for it. Magazines and corporations that make money from selling you ‘beauty’ need you to continue wanting that in order to survive. Dove knows that there’s a huge demographic out here who are rejecting, in some form, the beauty standards that they have thus far peddled. They also know that this is a highly emotional and contentious issue that will get them a lot of attention if they appear to be on the ‘good’ side, and will earn your trust and appreciation; then they can sell you more products! Win/win! Unless we’ve all entirely missed their development team’s ironic sense of humour, Dove’s oxymoronic Pro-Age and anti-aging ranges of products highlights their rejection of the ‘acceptance’ they are selling.

Secondly, assuming (less cynically) that this is a step in the right direction, the ideas still play by the rules of the value structure it claims to reject. Every message that informs us not to worry, we are beautiful despite our size, despite our ‘flaws’, despite our inability to lose weight, continues to frame the conversation under the heading Beauty is Important, Necessary, Fulfilling, Enriching. It continues to promote its own importance, encouraging ignorance of self-improvement in any other way; of other people; of political dynamics; of spirituality; of critical thinking; of the inane, false standards these messages hold us to.

Duke stated that “women want to experience, they want to feel, they want to be… far more than they want to look. Unfortunately, we’ve been taught that looking a certain way is a prerequisite for “achieving” throughout the rest of our lives.” Her article is commendable, in that it acknowledges that most women worry about body and beauty, and this is a real issue that creates pain (I would add: created for us, and by us, under patriarchy.)

“If we don’t actively dismantle the myths that have been embedded into women’s psyche around weight historically, those myths will linger, regardless of how many plus-sized models they see on billboards (again, important first step, but not necessarily the “answer” for women suffering from body hatred now).Indeed. The only way to find an answer to this falsehood is to reframe the questions; so that at some point, we instead ask others.

We all can, and have achieved many things. We can and will continue to. Physical appearance doesn’t truly factor into happiness or success: an employer may well hire you based on your appearance. Do you see yourself being happy working for that employer? And who says getting the job you wanted will make you happy or successful? Yet another accepted standard of happiness that you are allowed to redefine as you see fit.

Thankfully, you may also define beauty; personally I’ve found it in plenty of places. Not only are they not all visual, only a minority was attached to human flesh.

Tootsie & Misogyny: Dustin Hoffman’s Epiphany

In this short clip of an American Film Institute interview with Dustin Hoffman, he reflects on the memory of his realisation that he was, like all of us, culturally ‘brainwashed’. I love this clip not only because he speaks about it at all (and on record), but also because he obviously feels it so deeply. This is the answer to prejudice, I think; to feel the effects and experiences of the (perceived) ‘Other’.

While I could discuss the merits of this video for hours, it’s quite late, and no need; Hoffman’s soul speaks very gently and clearly for itself.

I feel privileged to have seen this today – found at TheMarySue.

Navigating a Culture of Sexual Objectification

…is something 52% of the population must do, daily.

In fact, it’s something 100% of the population must do daily, but 48% (probably) don’t internalise it as self-image. Although…I’m sure there are tribes that never see any mainstream media, and people who don’t leave their houses or have a television or have the internet….

I promise I’m trying, Inclusion and Accuracy.

Guesstimate: about 89% of the population see images, and films, and television programmes, and news items, and magazines, and adverts, and people that continue to sexualise cis-femininity. Daily. It’s toxic, it’s both surreptitious and brazen, and it affects YOUR BRAIN. And it will affect the brains of your children if you don’t teach them otherwise. This is why when you see any media which promotes anything Bad, you should punch your child. Hard. It’s called aversion therapy, and it works. (You’re welcome.)

Sociological Images has provided all of humankind, that is, everyone that is not one of the PhD-holding editors of the blog, with a series of posts about sexual objectification in (mainly advertising) images. The author, Caroline Heldman, defines the posts as “a series about how girls and women can navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects.” Nice one Caroline; frankly, it’s about time. 24 years into my life (after being groomed by media for all of those, but studying and deconstructing media for four of them) I actively see myself as a brainbodysoul subject, and it feels good in my brainbodysoul. But the grooming runs deep in all of us (eww) and unfortunately, it seems that all people need a frequent reminder that we humans are complex beings and not just the shoulds and givens that our constructs and institutions insist and demand we are and be. So, in conclusion, stop watching and start reading.

There are plenty more interesting articles on sociology, and images, on Sociological Images. But first, check these out as a 101 to not caving to the continual insistence that the female body is SEXY, and that that fact is important to you (oh, and empowering. Definitely empowering.)

Part One: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/02/sexual-objectification-part-1-what-is-it/

Part Two: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/06/sexual-objectification-part-2-the-harm/

Part Three: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/10/sexual-objectification-part-3-daily-rituals-to-stop/

Part Four: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/13/sexual-objectification-part-4-daily-rituals-to-start/

On female nudity. (AKA NUDE GIRLS XXX)

beyonce-gq-coverThe naked body. Our instinct is to bloody love ‘em. Looking at one, touching one, being wrapped up in and by one. Mm. Damn.

What sensuality, intimacy and pleasure can be expressed and received between naked people. All for it. On board. Plus, the hypnotic motion of some appropriately-placed flailing genitalia or boing-ing boobs can be fucking funny. For most, nakedness is beautifully and inextricably tied to sexuality, and (again, for most) the sight and feel of a naked body is one of huge pleasure. Yet, as certain as my base instincts are of their appreciation of nakedness, most appearances of nudes in my visual field result in my brain and spirit becoming indignant and wanting to phone Terry Wogan to complain. But, of course it’s not the image of the naked body itself that pains me.

Various intersecting cultural values have tried to ruin nakedness for everyone, by gradually bastardizing it into the incessant, controlled, mostly female ‘nude’ we know and I don’t love. Nakedness now appears to be equated with pouting lips, firm peek-a-boo-ing breasts and shiny, tiny, toned, jutting bums. Consider, what’s the ratio of flesh you see that looks like this, to that that doesn’t? Visual Culture pioneer John Berger captured this distinction in his seminal work Ways of Seeing: “Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.” Writing in the 1970s, Berger was largely referring to nudes of European paintings, but his sentiments perfectly capture the rapacious commodification of nude and near-nude bodies in our omnipresent visual media.

Long ago, in the nascent stages of the creation of the corporate Mainstream Media, its CEO, Max White-Powerman (popularly known as ‘The Man’) confirmed for us that ‘sex sells’, and that this fact was a natural cornerstone of a wholesome western cultural perspective (alongside such sentiments as ‘violence is fun’ and ‘fractional reserve banking’). Troublingly, his definition of ‘sex’, like so many before him, was ‘The Fetishised Female Image’, and thus a longstanding trend of sexist oppression begat a newly-coded visual ideology of domination, via reproduction after reproduction of silent ‘feminine’ subservience.

Fast-forward to a less sarcastic representation of contemporary mainstream media, and as much as person after person fights for diversity in representation and the end of exploitation, the global market is saturated with the imaginary sexualised female. A deodorized, manacled and coercive idea of ‘sex’ is widely sold and desperately bought by most of us, marketed to men as innate power and entitlement, and to women as innate worth and empowerment.

The hijack of feminist ideals by market forces to delineate ‘femininity’ has rightly come under scrutiny of late, and we’re seeing the tenets of ‘masculinity’ increasingly examined. But a myth of diversified choices and empowerment gains for women is still stubbornly equated with the ‘power’ of ‘beauty’, and conforming to closely bracketed standards of an essential ‘feminine’ demeanour continues to pervade the public consciousness’s determination of true, innate female success. The visual and conceptual objectification that occurs when women are framed hyper-sexually and altered digitally maintains a false, but powerful and painfully tangible, bond between Woman and her status as an always-potentially-if-not-actually available commodity.

Two celebrated female writers who I’ve never seen nude, New Statesman columnist Glosswitch and Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, recently caught my attention. Freeman’s article Beyonce: Being photographed in your underwear doesn’t help feminism, generated a response from Glosswitch entitled Hadley Freeman: Telling Beyonce she’s not helping feminism isn’t helping feminism. In addition to such beautiful titular tittilation (neither of those was a Freudian slip) both articles are damn well worth a read. Glosswitch is ever-sharp, though my heart leans towards Freeman’s stance on this; if we were not presented with constant hyper-sexualised images of women, a huge part of the “semiotics of a patriarchal society” would be removed from our daily experience (that of the readers of shit, trendy magazines, at least.) Though Glosswitch states she’s not sure of the coherency of such a phrase, she’s made me consider the connectedness of patriarchy, power and semiotics. Half a century on from second-wave feminism, Beyonce is considered one of the most ‘powerful’ women in the world (certainly one of the most visibly present) and is constantly represented to us as a hyper-sexual object. An object with the ‘power’ of great vocal chords, revenue generation and of Being Beautiful.

The Beyonce Question is problematically framed as whether or not Beyonce specifically ‘should’ be ‘allowing’ her tidy badonkadonk and sexually provocative facial expressions to be photographed again and again for the gratification of both the paying consumer, and her temperature-controlled digital storage facility. But opening up this teensy microclimate of the definition of Woman to the wider, tangible world of sexual domination, in which half of the 2.5million trafficked souls on our planet are women and girls forced into prostitution, the question is not about Beyonce’s personal choices as much as it is about desperately needing high profile females to consider this tension between symbolism and the empirical.

“You can’t be what you can’t see”, says media organisation MissRepresentation.org; while the wording of that quote is actually pretty defeatist, I get the message. Everything we see and hear around us is so formative, and symbolic messages are being delivered to our consciousness every second via dogged ideological signals from the attitudes of people around us, and the people who control the flow of information about ourselves, our actions and our society.

Many recent strains of feminist debate have centered around feminist writers trying to speak on the behalf of all women. So allow me to spark some debate: personally, my view is (though if you don’t agree then, naturally, fuck you) that women, especially women in the public eye, need to think hard about their relationship to self-presentation and sexuality if they are going to address the pressing issues facing women with regard to sexual violence (and other inequalities). This is not a problem with nakedness, it is a problem with the ubiquitous visibility and promotion of submissive female nudity. The suggestion that we might contribute to a more equal collective consciousness is not a naïveté that ‘no more tit shots = equality’. But it is a genuine concern as to what really would “help feminism” in lieu of the invention of a vaccine for sexually aggressive neural processes. (Or perhaps we could just distribute this shock aversion therapy experiment to everyone.)

Perhaps Katy B, Jessie Ware and Ms Dynamite could collaborate on an album about the Fawcett Society, which samples speeches by Cynthia McKinney. In their videos they’d wear lush Aran jumpers, buttoned-up blouses and pin-striped slacks, next to backing dancers Noam Chomsky and Jackson Katz doing the running man. And then when they’ve restored harmony to our global society forever, we can represent nakedness in a more meaningful, realistic and loving way, bouncing hilariously into ever after. I agree with actress (and, I found out, dancer!) Neve Campbell: “I’ve never been opposed to nudity. What I’ve been opposed to is nudity for box office draw.”