Sunday, July 1, 2012

Keep It Real Challenge

   I wasn't sure about writing this post until two things happened. First, I listened to a speech by Neil Gaiman in which he says, roughly, that right when you start to feel unsure- like you're about to walk naked down the street- that's when you might actually be getting it right. Second, the friend I trust most for advice in artful ventures swore on my Facebook page. I guess that was enough for me. It's a few days late, but better late than never.

   Everything I’m about to tell you sounds absolutely crazy, and it is.

   When I was small -5 or 6 years old- I hated my nose. My role models were animated princesses, women on TV, and my big sisters - and every one of them had a narrow nose. By Kindergarten it was clear that the heroines of the world had dainty snouts and I had an Opus beak.
 Pulling the reins of Western society are two juggernaut industries. On the one hand, the food industry, which taps into our basest instincts to feed us crap from pretty boxes and wrappers, often plastered with bogus “health” claims while slowly killing us. The obesity rate in the United States has officially passed 33%. On the other hand, the fashion industry manipulates us by taking an unhealthy, immorally narrow subset of models then digitally alters them to an impossible level of perfection. It’s a social fabric woven of self-loathing.

   When I was 10, a hand full of people started commenting about my weight, and it stuck. I wasn’t overweight. Sure I was on the bigger side of average, but even a little more out-side-play and puberty would’ve taken the “bigger” part out. But come on- I wasn’t thinking about average. There was no average. There was thinner. Thinner was better. It was important, like brushing teeth or getting haircuts. I don’t know why- it was just important. So I started exercising. A lot. Do you know an 11-year-old whose proudest achievement was doing 100 crunches every day for a year? You do now.

   By junior high it was an absolute social game to diet. We would all go to B’s house every night, weigh ourselves, and compare. We would flip through women’s magazines and try out the latest “Europe’s Secret Miracle Diet” or “What Every Brazilian Woman Knows.” Tai Bo was all the rage and I couldn’t go to sleep without doing a tape (yes, they were still tapes). We’d pass around Dexatrim at lunch time. It was an unspoken medallion of honor to be the one who went with the fewest full meals.  I started counting calories and restricting my fat intake to 15 grams a day or less. I would exercise and exercise and it was never about being healthy or strong. It was about being thinner. At 104lbs I felt too fat because I wasn’t 100. At 98lbs I was frustrated because I wasn’t 95. I told myself that what I was doing was fine as long as I didn’t drop below 90lb. If I ever got to 90lbs I’d stop. I never did. I was only socially rewarded. I was gifted with praise and compliments and I’d go up to my bedroom at night and cry because I was ugly. I liked my hair, and my eye color was kind of cool, but my knuckles were knobby, my nose was huge, my boobs were too small and I always needed to be thinner.

   I joined the track team when I was 13 and suddenly, I couldn’t control my appetite. Calorie counting went out the window. I’d do my best to consume the “right” kinds of foods, but enough was never enough. So I started throwing up.

   I never did get back down to 98lbs- I’d fluctuate between 102-115lb depending on my activity level and over all diet, but that’s how I kept things in a manageable rang. I threw up 1-3 times a day, 5 to 7 days a week for the next 7 years, like brushing teeth or getting a haircut. 

   It was my socially acceptable dirty-little-secret. I’ve talked to countless women and girls who’ve all tried something unhealthy or extreme for the sake of being thinner. Never once in my life have I heard a woman say that she’s not done something unhealthy. We sit in gym classes and watch cheesy Lifetime network movies about the one girl with anorexia and it rolls off like a load of crap because everyone is doing it. The extreme was normalized from birth!

   The misrepresentation of women in the media has become so rampant, Photoshop abuse (yes, that’s what I called it) so common place, that whether it’s weight, skin color, or feature size,  we are raised from the very beginning of life to be unhappy with our bodies because we’re not “perfect” and “perfect” is…just, important. It’s sick. And I’ve had enough.

   So when I heard that Seventeen Magazine had refused a petition to include one non-retouched photo spread per issue, and the responding Keep It Real Challenge, I decided to get on board.

   Things won’t change until we start talking about it. Things didn’t change for me until I finally talked about it with someone I trusted- till something was more important than “important.” And you know what? One of the first things that they ever told me was that they loved my nose.

The official challenge may be over, but we can still tweet to editors, stop buying the magazines and products, something- anything!- to get them to drop the Photoshop. Enough is enough.

1 comment:

  1. Love it, Heather. I couldn't be more proud of you. It takes a lot of guts to post something like this; you're helping a lot of people by doing a very brave thing. Very proud to know you.