Thursday, May 22, 2008

Swim Suit Season

The Matron is amazing. Watch while she sums up her entire 278 page dissertation in a single blog post (okay, that statement is mildly unsettling).

To prove her eventual point, she must ask you some questions: "What is anorexia, who are the primary sufferers and what are the contributing factors?"

Big round of applause! You know every single answer!

But there's no other equivalent mental illness in which the entire culture is so well-versed. Could you answer the same for alcoholism? Schizophrenia? Borderline Personality Disorder?

Of course not.

The Matron's main point was that American culture requires cement-solid definitions of 'disease' when it comes to female eating. Why? Because if medicine --and the beauty industry, fashion, athletics--can say "this" (anorexia) is disease, everything else is 'normal,' sort of by default.

Focusing our attention on one type of body and despair, allows us to forget the rest. All of us 'normal' eaters.

The Matron wonders what 'normal' eating is in a world where the female body is the primary vehicle for sales, of all sort, and sexism not only endures, but is institutionalized to the point of acceptance. Consider Hustler or Playboy or even the current Democratic presidential campaign (remember when someone yelled "iron my shirt" at Hillary? What if that was "shine my shoes" at Barack?) as one tiny examples.

How many men do you know that tend to their bodies with female precision: calories? glycemic index? past the lips, forever on the hips? do these pants make me look thinner? can't eat a brownie because I didn't jog today OR okay, I get to TREAT myself because I did the treadmill.

The Matron considered these issues today while listening to psychologically sound mothers discuss their daughters bodies. The entire conversation was all about the girls' happiness: isn't it hard being the chubby one? Poor Greta! She feels fat next to all her other friends.
There was talk about tummies, thighs and who was 'rounding out' and who remaining beanpole thin. The Matron was a participant in this conversation, mind you, not an innocent bystander. But she noted -- as the women discussed the burgeoning female bodies -- that this type of conversation happens from time to time regarding the daughters, but not the sons.

Once Scarlett asked the Matron why some people were fat and others were skinny and how to stay in Category Number Two.

The Matron said: "Eat until your tummy feels full and make mostly healthy choices."

Now, the "healthy choices" part annoys the Matron. In his new book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan posits that 90% of what we call food, isn't. Most of what sits on the American shelf--from Ramen noodles to Trix to Hamburger Helper -- are chemicals masquerading as food. He keeps a perfect-looking 5 year old Twinkie at his side as example: real food rots.

Now consider the alluring, appealing Matronly nails that top this post. See the slight yellow lining? The stain? That would be from the Matron's preferred chemical pleasure -- Old Dutch Cheese Popcorn!

The Matron ate that popcorn TEN DAYS ago.

She has showered. Bathed. Soaked those nails. Yet the yellow lining remains, much like Kool-Aid can ruin a rug.

Did you know that fast food chains add 'scent' to their food? Yes! There's burger smell and chicken, added because the real aroma is long gone.

This is the brave new world our children are living in - the daughters? They better be thin. Yes, we are still singing that song! The beauty standard remains (often, pretending to be all about health when really, we are still talking beauty) at the same time the food 'standard' has been all but obliterated.

Today, this entire situation, annoyed the Matron.


Anonymous said...

So, so, sad. And the clothing manufacturers keep changing their sizes. I'm sure that my 10s are yesterdays 14s. Because in High School, I think I wore 10 - and believe me, I am at least 25 lbs heavier.

So, they screw with our food AND our clothes.

Anonymous said...

Fast food is an oxymoron.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I'm pretty sure I could blog on just this subject everyday. And then I'd need meds.

Fake food and disordered eating - can't eat the first & the second, marred my high school years.

I love what you told Scarlett. Best advice; I try to do the same.

Suburban Correspondent said...

I think people know more about anorexia because they can identify with that desire to be thin. They can't so much identify with the more standard mental disorders. Are you saying that anorexia shouldn't be qualified as a mental disorder, because it is caused by our culture, rather than by our minds? I think it is more a form of OCD, actually.

Nora said...

Half of the food I eat is not food I need and is actually food I can very well do without. Empty calories nutritiously seen. It's good to be reminded of that so clearly in this post. Thanks MM.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

The stuff that Cheetos leave behind on your fingertips? Agent Orange.

Jennifer S said...

Normal eating, normal weight...I despair of ever getting it all right in a healthy way. Genetics aren't my friend, and I wish it was all easier.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't have coped with that conversation. Do those mothers ever point the judgement finger inwards?
My girls and I debated the current push by our government to ban fastfood ads on TV. Kyla feels it will make no difference, whilst Madi thinks it's a good idea. Get this, she thought the government actually cared about obese kids. I had to break it to her that it all comes down to $$$. Fat=sick=pressure on already struggling public heath system.
The sweet innocence of youth...politicians never lie.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I begin this by stating in college I was a dance major and I switched majors because I couldn't starve myself to be thin enough for "performance" standards. Eating disorders were rampant among my peers.

I eat and love to eat and I've long adhered to the advice of "If your great-grandmother can't identify it, it's not food." Amen. This advice makes apple pie good and McNuggets--well, scary if you think about it.
Great post (as usual!).

Minnesota Matron said...

Suburban -- No, you're right. Anorexia (I think) is more than just a disease of cultural pressure. But it's often called a "culture-bound" syndrome, meaning that certain cultural pressures -- not just thinness, but power and control and autonomy (also American values) create a climate in which the very traits that become pathological in their extreme are desirable in some degree.

JessTrev said...

Oh my, nailed the topic once again. I really love this post as the issue is near and dear to my heart. I somehow escaped the cultural/gendered obsession with thinness and food (largely due to genetic factors I bet) and it's made it interesting, to say the least, to be female. I remember marveling in junior high that I was the only girl I knew not on a diet. Kind of like a guy who doesn't like the Sports Machine banter. Anyways, if you stick your fingers in a grapefruit for awhile after eating it, you may be able to bleach your nails out.

Madge said...

wonderful post, as usual. very serious subject and i agree, but all i can think of are old dutch potato chips!! we don't have them in the south. i miss them!

Jocelyn said...

Between Pollen and Kingsolver and my own good sense (which occasionally rears up), I've been increasingly annoyed with American food culture--the sheer amount of processing, of taking real stuff out of our foods and putting in fake stuff (aspertame, anyone?) in and calling it "better." I have the only five-year-old on the block who can say the words "high fructose corn syrup" and identify foods without it.

As far as body image, I'm tres eff-ed up, personally...totally, completely fit (yoga, pilates, muscle pumping plus daily runs of an hour), but I remain outside the ideal, and I can't. keep. that. from. mattering. to. me.



My daughter only knows her mom is totally, completely fit. The only word she couldn't identify correctly back when she had her pre-kindergarten assessment at age 4, was "fat."

My proudest moment as a parent.

Angie said...

As someone who has actually walked out of the grocery store after not being able to find anything my family could actually eat.....I get what you're saying. Our family has gone to complete whole foods - it is not easy - but is the only way I can sleep at night. Also, having a daughter that has been treated for an eating disorder, makes food in our home even more tentative. It is difficult not to make food an issue (which we were taught during her treatment) when you are trying to be conscious of 'real' food on a daily basis. There is a fine line between consciousness and making it an issue.

The regular grocery store is a vast wasteland of fake food. Until everyone is willing to take the time to learn what real food is and how to cook it, I don't see anything changing any time soon.

Thanks for this post and for bringing awareness to this subject.

Fairlie - said...

I'm adding a new guidline to my life rules for food...

"Be wary of any food that doesn't wash off after 10 days."

(PS - hearing Pollan speak at the Sydney Writers Festival truly was a treat.)

sexy said...