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November 18, 2007

All The Right Reasons

My fortune Ipod pulled up Nickleback's album "All the Right Reasons" when I was actually trying to search for Carly Simon's "Easy on the Eyes." The search function is rather tricky, isn't it?

So I decided to write about it. I mean, I can't very well write about my brand new baby organizing campaign at the most strategic target currently available in the entire state of PA, can I? Nobody wants to hear about how much I love my three organizers, Susie, Lisa and Danny... except maybe their parents, whose email addresses I don't happen to possess. You've already heard a lot about how much I love that skinny slightly orangeish boy I sleep next to every night... and you'll hear more about that, since I can tie it in with CR. No, this is a blog about Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition, and food in general, and recipes, and how I feel about food, and reactions to the general food chatter out there in the media, blogosphere, etc.

So there.

Dr. Stacey of Every Woman Has An Eating Disorder has a most interesting post today-ish.

First, let me say that I love the "fork in the road" picture. I must find out the artist and title.

Second, let me say that I am well aware that many women have negative relationships with food and dieting that they would be better off without.

Third, let me pose the question that I posed to Dr. Stacey in a comment that I think blogger somehow ate.

Dr. Stacey,

Do you oppose all dieting?

I am thinking of my mother, who in her late fifties was about seventy pounds overweight, was suffering from various illnesses, and was having terrible joint problems that impaired her ability to walk. Her doctor told her that the best thing to do would be to lose weight. Or she could get a knee replacement in a few years.

She joined one of those diet centers you have written negatively about, Weight Watchers to be exact, and she gradually, slowly, over 3 years, lost 70 pounds. She actually did the program as it's supposed to be done: including several servings of lean protein foods every day, getting servings of high-calcium foods, eating tons of veggies. Basically, cutting calories while improving nutrition.

She also found the support that she got from her Weight Watchers group to be tremendously helpful, not just in sticking to the program but in feeling good about herself while she was doing it. She enjoyed the experience, and never felt shame or pressure. (For the record, at least at her group, weights are never announced. It's written down for only the individual to see.)

My mom's health improved tremendously. She loves being about to walk around without pain. She feels great, and has maintained almost all of the weight loss by continuing on the same healthy habits.

Would she have been better off had she not dieted?

I imagine, though I can not and would not dare speak for her, that Dr. Stacey will agree that it's fine that my mom dieted. I mean, it was, after all, for her health.

Who wants a knee replacement? Health problems? Her doctor told her to lose weight. So I guess it's okay that she went on a diet.

It's not like she was doing it to look better, or conform to society's ideal of beauty. Or, God forbid, to attract men. Or to slow her biological aging process or anything creepy like that.

So that's okay, right?

She did it for all the right reasons.

My question to you is: according to whom?

What are the right reasons for eating healthy food, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, even if it takes work and self-discipline and social support?

Who decides? Is that up to the individual: in my mother's case, a woman in her late fifties who taught the first women's studies class at Duke, was the only woman in her graduating class at Duke Divinity when women were supposed to be preachers' wives, not preachers, a woman who worked at least three jobs at any given time while raising a daughter to be strong, independent, and happy?

Or is it up to some other authority? Do we have to justify our decisions to the host of pundits who are ready to label anything that resembles self-control as an eating disorder?

In a country where 65% of the population is overweight, and half of those are clinically obese, it can hardly come as a surprise that the movement to pathologize the thin is gathering steam. After all, it serves the capitalist machine quite well to encourage people to accept obesity as normal. Eat the food the food industry serves up, and you'll get fat. [Post forthcoming on how genetics may dictate appetite, but do not dictate weight.]

I mean, after all, why are we choosing to be thin (and it is a choice, for most of us)? Is it for the right reasons? What are the right reasons? Or is it for the wrong reasons?

What are the wrong reasons?

Well...

Oh how predictable. The wrong reason is: to attract men.

[Close second: to extend your lifespan. But we've dealt with that elsewhere.]

From Dr. Stacey's entry on how Halloween costumes for women seem to be all some version of short skirt, revealing, even "slutty:"

My question is: Are our costumes designed to attract men, or are we, ourselves, chomping at the bit for a bit of exhibitionism, playing out a playful fantasy on our own? Are we slutting it out for others or ourselves, or do we no longer know the difference?

Hmmmm. I've been puzzling on this one since I read it.

To begin with, I totally object to the use of the term "slut." It implies that a woman's sexuality is somehow a negative thing. So that's problem one.

Second: it's been my experience that "slutting it out," as it were, is an interactive experience. I enjoy dressing up in sexy outfits in the privacy of my own home or when I'm going out to social occasions where they would be appropriate. I enjoy how I look, and I enjoy the effects these rather sexy outfits have on my partner. We have a lot of fun. In fact (oh scandalous!) I enjoy the reactions I get from other men when I wear sexy clothes. It's kinda fun to admire and be admired. It's entertaining. It's affirming. Am I doing it for myself? Sure, cause it's fun. Do I do it when I'm alone in the house with the cats? Not so much. Having men around to appreciate it kinda makes the experience. I'm sure if I were a lesbian I'd say that having women around kinda makes the experience. Would I then be doing it to attract women, and would that be somehow suspect?

Is it a crime against feminism?

This is where I really think that the feminist movement took a wrong turn. Instead of fighting for economic justice for women (kinda like I do -- helping women workers organize unions so they can fight for better standards on the job) way too much feminist energy has gone into cultural feminism, and into obsessing about how women look.

"Can you be a true feminist and still want to dip below your natural weight?" asks Dr. Stacey in the post "In A Cinch."

Now don't get me wrong. I love Dr. Stacey's blog, and I applaud the work she does in trying to help women achieve a state of peace with their bodies and get over eating disorders.

But... this kind of thinking, that it is somehow anti-feminist to either want to attract men or to gasp! lose weight is just goofy. And counter-productive. Some of us find men quite entertaining, and enjoy interacting with them in ways that run all the way from mild flirting to buying a house together. Does that somehow invalidate who we are in the rest of our lives?

Reminds me of when I was in Vermont, trying to run an organizing campaign with some completely insane women who passed off their insanity (and unwillingness to do the work) as feminism, how one of them interrogated me about every aspect of my appearance.

"Why do you paint your nails red?"

Uh, cause I like them that way.

"You do it to attract men!!!"

"Why do you wear skirts?"

Uh, cause they're comfortable, and appropriate for my work?

"NO, YOU DO IT TO ATTRACT MEN!"

This is the same woman who called me a whore to my face in a staff meeting, btw. Should have been fired, but I unfortunately was not in a position to hire and fire. In my next job, I clarified that I would have the power to fire anyone who called their supervisor a whore. Doesn't seem like much to ask, does it?

These folks contended that I was an evil agent of the partiarchy... never mind my then seven years (now twelve) of organizing women workers. Nope, that doesn't count. It's how I look, in their mind, that determines whether or not I'm a feminist.

Ladies (and gentlemen, if you're still reading), that's crap.

It's really no one else's place to tell me, or my mom, or anyone else, whether or not their reasons for wearing what they wear, or weighing what they weigh, are valid.

These days, I have three reasons for doing CR:

a) To slower my biological aging process, so I can meaningfully participate in the very long term process of changing the political economy of my country and the world

b) To enjoy the immediate term benefits, such as near total relief from anxiety, an invincible immune system, better mental focus, more energy, etc.

c) Because I love the way my body looks and feels when I am on CR.

I don't exactly complain when I catch a male friend turning to watch me walk away. I don't exactly complain when everyone in the office has a cold and I don't catch it. I don't exactly complain when I get mistaken for someone in her early twenties.

I did complain, pre-CR, about not having the energy to walk up the stairs to my third floor office. I did complain, pre-CR, about getting sick with every illness that passed through (and that's a lot, when you organize nurses). I did complain, pre-CR, about acquiring an amount of body fat that I no longer found attractive.

Are the first two reasons right, and the third wrong? Is it a crime against women everywhere to rejoice momentarily in the joy of getting checked out?

We in the CR community are so worried about being painted as anorexics, or even as regular dieters, that we go out of our way to say, "It's about aging! It's not about weight!" And of course that's true.

But let me let you in on a secret: one major reason why I want to slow my aging process is to look younger, longer!

Of course I want to live longer! Of course I want to avoid disease! Of course I want to walk around instead of riding in a wheelchair, and avoid the CCU at all costs!

But guess what else: I want to look hot years and years from now!

OH NO!!! THE WRONG REASON!

Thousands of women workers organized be damned, April CR is not a proper feminist.

Cause she wants to look good.

I am waiting for cultural feminists to join forces with radical Islamists and force us all to cover ourselves from head to foot.

Call me a fuck-me feminist, but a) I never address that command to anyone who is not my Partner of Record b) it's not just about sex, it's about how women relate to each other.

Fat acceptance folks argue that people should be valued for things other than their weight, and I agree. I've written extensively against weight bias. But when I see someone brilliant and influential like Dr. Stacey coming out against all dieting, I have to wonder... what's really going on here? What kind of world are we supposed to aspire to? One where everyone is overweight or obese, but everybody's okay with that? Where the health risks of obesity are just a natural part of life? Where my mom would have gotten both knees replaced by now? Where I would still get sick four times a year and hate my body, but at least i wouldn't be (eeeeeeew!) restricting?

Those thin people must have some kind of disorder because if they don't... if it's possible to be thin and happy and healthy and not anorexic...

Then what does that say about those who can't seem to get their own weight under control?

Maybe those of us who have figured out how to beat the standard American girth growth should be very careful not to say anything in public, for fear of offending those who might not be so... uh... lucky?

Was my vegan ex-boyfriend right when he said that I should feel guilty for being beautiful because it makes all the other women feel bad?

Should I gain weight, cut my hair, chop off my nails, and stop wearing makeup?

Should I throw out all my cute clothes and cover myself in bagginess and drab?

Am I just "slutting it out" in my business suit? After all, I did see a real live male check me out. Am I wearing it to attract men? Should I go to feminist rehab?


Posted by april at November 18, 2007 1:44 AM

Comments

I'm afraid that weight bias comes in a variety of manifestations. I have found this "fat acceptance" concept very, very disturbing for a long time because of the serious ramifications if holds over life expectancy, family/caretaker involvement, as well as increased health care costs. This does not even address quality of life. I believe that one can address self-esteem issues while also focusing on being a healthy individual, which includes a healthy weight (isn't this how it should be?). I enjoyed this post and it mirrors many of the thoughts that I've had over the last few years. I know that you've addressed this before, but there is also quite a bit of "thin discrimination" in our country which I believe is most often feuled by insecurity...but I won't start on that right now! Thanks for the thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I'm glad to see you aren't ashamed of being a woman.

Kay

Posted by: Kay at November 18, 2007 11:58 AM

April,
It's so nice to see someone else who feels the way I do about 'proper' motivations for practicing CRON. I think it's very hard to separate loving my body simply because it is, and loving my body because it is sometimes because of my appearance that I receive positive reinforcement from others. I practice CRON because it makes me feel good inside and out, and other people notice that good feeling (and my body) and appreciate and respond to it. Why shouldn't I do something not only for me, but because of how others react to it? Human beings are social creatures--we aren't expected to act and react in isolation in other areas of our lives. CRON makes me healthy, but it also makes me sexy, and I love it and practice it for both of those reasons. And I refuse to feel anti-feminist or guilty about it. Or wearing skirts and red nail polish and high heels and make up :)

Posted by: Rachel at November 18, 2007 12:38 PM

Yes, I never dared to put it like you did, but how many times have I lied and exused myself, justifying food choices, because I was afraid to admit that I am thin but dieting? I was afraid of being accused of, yes, doing it for the above "wrong reasons". And yes, partly I am doing it for the WR. And I should stop hiding it. By the way, I have learned a new word, "slut" wasn't part of my vocabulary until today.

As for the ED-part: I came to learn the advantages of the
lean-protein-tons-of-veggies-unsaturated-fat+restriction-diet, in both how I look and how I feel. Wanting my ice cream, knowing it will disrupt my well-being, but feeling compelled to eat it anyway, that's my disordered part. (I am allowed to say this, others aren't...)But most women would say it was the other way round. In fact, no one believes me, when I tell them I have a problem with ice-cream. (Or cake. Or no matter what.) A lot of people seem to think it is *normal* not being able to stop eating high caloric "treats" once actual hunger is satisfied. And if it's not normal in general, it's normal for women. Strange thing. But still it is my decision *if* I wish to change or for what reason.
I grinned a bit, reading your post, because I had to acknowledge just how often I let other women dictate what I am allowed to do as far as my body is concerned and which rules and values are to be followed.

Glad you expressed it so - unmistakably. :-)

Posted by: Marianne at November 18, 2007 1:32 PM

Since my interest in CR was piqued a few years ago, I've often noted how MOST people are caught up in food and everything... very recently we went to a buffet where I chose to eat veggies, lean broiled chicken breast and some sugar free jell-O and afterwards at our friend's house I had some coffee with sugar free cocoa as my "dessert"... I felt just fine whereas everyone else had stuffed themselves at the buffet and then forced down cheesecake and pie later on, and that is all they talked about for half an hour was how "bloated" they felt and how many calories they were going to have to work off. It was a moment of complete absurdity.

Posted by: Jake Silver at November 18, 2007 1:41 PM

One thing Dr. Stacey did not define is just what the hell one's "natural" weight IS. Is it the 108 I weighed at 16, the 120 I weighed at 20, the 129 I weighed at 29, the 140 I weighed at 40 or the 176 I had ballooned up to by 58? Is it the weight that "felt" the best (129) or the weight that "looked" the best (120)? Without that term being clearly defined, her comment is meaningless.

I must say, I tend to agree to some extent with her anti-diet stance. For those women like your mom, who followed Weight Watchers properly, it's a great program. But most women I have known, simply do not follow it properly at all! They stay within their "Points" all right, but do so living on bread and cereals and carefully counting Points so they can eat chocolate cake. Sure, they lose weight, but at what cost? Nutritionally, they're slowly killing themselves. (I know, I've ranted about this before..........)

I have a friend who goes on quite scary crash diets every couple of years, rapidly losing 20 or 30 lbs for some big social event, then within 6 months is right back where she started. I also have several friends who have done the "Dr. Bernstein" diet. They've lost 35-40 lbs in 6 weeks, at humongous expense (because it's all done under close medical supervision) but they too are now, one year later, back to where they started: seriously overweight and thousands of dollars poorer.

And Jay -- boy do I relate to your comment here! We see this scenario a lot. You really have to wonder if these people leave their brains at home on a daily basis. JD :-)

Posted by: Judith at November 18, 2007 6:27 PM

Great post April! This is an issue that I have felt angered and stifled by for the past two years of practicing CR. It felt vindicating to read your write up on it. I hope to read more candid posts about it- (now that you seem more willing to express the more contentious aspects of your views).

Posted by: hazel at November 18, 2007 9:14 PM

April,

What a great, thought-provoking post!

I think no woman should ever have to apologize for wanting to be attractive. The tragedy is when women define themselves entirely by how they look. A human being is more than a dress size or a number on a scale.

The important distinction here boils down to one's sense of self-worth, I believe. If you value yourself as a human being, regardless of how you look or what you weigh or how you dress, that self-respect will shine through in the ways you treat yourself. If you don't value yourself as you should, I can see where dieting and sex could become forms of self-abuse.

Context is everything. A woman who starves herself of the nutrition her body needs in order to squeeze into a "slutty" dress so she can have sex with someone who treats her like crap, all because of some deeply-rooted belief that she's worthless - well, that's one thing. A woman who loses weight while carefully practicing CRON, slips on that same "slutty" dress and has sex with someone who genuinely respects and cares for her - that's something else entirely.

Unfortunately, I suspect many women fit into the former category rather than the latter, and I imagine that's where Dr. Stacey is coming from.

Posted by: Robin at November 19, 2007 1:48 AM

Totally agree with what Judith commented about one's 'natural' weight. How is it natural to stuff yourself like a foie gras goose on Thickburgers and shakes? How is the weight one attains eating foods that wouldn't exist without a hundred steps of refine, hydrogenise, repeat, in any way natural? You yourself have written, April, that even with CR you're not stick-thin, you're average-thin. I would contend that the weight you are on CR is in fact your 'natural' weight. We did not evolve in a calorie-guaranteed environment; the proof surely is that people are more healthy on CR rather than less so.

I have to admit to finding myself bothered by some of the attitudes towards food on some of the CR-esque blogs, but never the idea of wanting to look good. Wanting to attract a mate is as natural as wanting to eat, wanting to live. We all deserve to look as good as it is in our power to do.

Never apologise for beauty, nor for intelligence, hard work or talent. Never apologise for the gifts you have. Be grateful, but never be sorry.

Posted by: Brooke at November 19, 2007 4:55 AM

As with many of the other comments, Robin's post is very on point and I think puts things into perspective. Obviously, there has to be balance in all things and we must also focus on internal "fitness". Well said...context is important.

Kay

Posted by: Kay at November 19, 2007 6:36 AM

I've really enjoyed reading this post (as I do all of your posts, April!) and the equally thought-provoking comments that followed. It's all been said, so I guess this is just another "me too!" comment.

I too loved the way I looked last summer strutting around in my sarong pushing the kids' stroller past the cafes on the Avenue... but when I got compliments, I always said, "But the best thing is that I feel so healthy!" And it is, but I also totally got a kick out of being checked out, especially by guys half my age! LOL

I too always felt like I had to apologize, as if the only benefits of CR I was entitled to was to "feel healthy" and that it was unfair of me to "look good" too.

Crazy, eh?!

Nen

Posted by: Nenette at November 19, 2007 1:53 PM

Of course, I agree with you totally about Dr. Stacey. Bizarre logic. On the attractive clothes, however, I think it's important to realize the effect you have on people - and the potential negative involved - and be mindful of it. If you are dressing sexy, then men that you interact with will be thinking about you that way. It's generally not something that they can control. If you are aware of that and okay with the little stumbling block you are throwing in their path, or you actually want that reaction, then fine. But, if you don't want men to be thinking of your body as they talk to you, then you can't dress just anyway you want to. For example, on a hot day, you might feel more comfortable in a string bikini, but that's going to create an environment that I would actually deem sexual harassment for the men around you - assuming you didn't want to be chased - and caught. I say this after working for 30 years, many of them as a manager, in a very male-dominated environment with men I consider friends. It's a sign of respect to men to wear clothes that are not distracting when you are trying to work with them. A politeness thing. That you want to be a coworker with them, not a sex object.

Posted by: Little MR at November 20, 2007 12:10 PM

Mary,

No kidding. I dress very conservatively for work. I don't want to kill the poor dears! I also manage people and have to work with the public. We have to look very un-sexy.

a

Posted by: april at November 21, 2007 11:15 AM

This one has to be quick, so I may follow-up, but here are a few responses:
1) I don't think what your mom did/does is dieting. It sounds like a lifestyle change/choice to me, which is why I think WW is one of the better programs out there (my take on them was not all negative, if you remember). Your mom has changed the way she eats and lives; she hasn't gone on a 2-week/one-month/3-month diet in which she feels deprived, only to end the diet (b/c she feels deprived, not that there's anything wrong with her b/c anyone would feel deprived!) and gain the weight back (plus some).
2) I don't necessarily think it's an anti-feminism approach to want to attract men. I like to look/dress well, too! My point is that I think there are plenty of women who feel they HAVE to dress that way to be accepted, who aren't CHOOSING to dress a certain way b/c that's what they want for themselves, their partners, their "viewing" audience. Do you see the difference? Many teenage girls (or even younger, by the comments on my original post) are not making that choice. They're just doing what they think will garner them attenion, affection, and I think that needs to be explored. We need to understand WHY we do what we do, and for many women (particularly with eating disorders), these aren't conscious choices.

Posted by: drstaceyny at November 26, 2007 7:31 AM

This one has to be quick, so I may follow-up, but here are a few responses:
1) I don't think what your mom did/does is dieting. It sounds like a lifestyle change/choice to me, which is why I think WW is one of the better programs out there (my take on them was not all negative, if you remember). Your mom has changed the way she eats and lives; she hasn't gone on a 2-week/one-month/3-month diet in which she feels deprived, only to end the diet (b/c she feels deprived, not that there's anything wrong with her b/c anyone would feel deprived!) and gain the weight back (plus some).
2) I don't necessarily think it's an anti-feminism approach to want to attract men. I like to look/dress well, too! My point is that I think there are plenty of women who feel they HAVE to dress that way to be accepted, who aren't CHOOSING to dress a certain way b/c that's what they want for themselves, their partners, their "viewing" audience. Do you see the difference? Many teenage girls (or even younger, by the comments on my original post) are not making that choice. They're just doing what they think will garner them attenion, affection, and I think that needs to be explored. We need to understand WHY we do what we do, and for many women (particularly with eating disorders), these aren't conscious choices.

Posted by: drstaceyny at November 26, 2007 7:33 AM

Ok, now when is your book coming out?

Posted by: Shannon Vyff at November 27, 2007 10:10 PM

So when are you writing your book? ;-)

We need the new view that we can lose weight for ourselves and no one else...for our health, and that it is easy to do... for optimal longevity too :-)

Posted by: Shannon at November 27, 2007 10:30 PM

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