Archive for the ‘Body image’ Category

Post-debate, Candy Crowley told CNN that she altered her position on the floor as moderator. She was supposed to sit, but she decided to stand. “I have a bad back,” she said. But there was another reason. Crowley watched Jim Lehrer and saw how he was seated lower down than the candidates. “He looked like he was in an orchestra pit,” she said. In that position, “You’re not on the same level.” She thought that made it harder for Lehrer to keep control of the debate.

There was so much internet chatter before the debate about how all the teeth were taken out of the moderator. Crowley didn’t let happen, in no small part because she took control of her pose.

Anyone who reads Reel Girl knows I spend a lot of time analyzing the poses of males and females, real and imagined, actors and politicians, kids and grown-ups.

Poses matter and women know this from a lifetime of being led into idiotic, submissive poses and watching the stupid, idiotic poses other women get led into. Crowley was alert, prepared, and took action when she had the power to alter her position. She kept control of the debate.

Nice job, Crowley, and thank you to three teen girls from New Jersey for advocating to get the first female moderator in 20 years to moderate a presidential debate.

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Yesterday was picture day at my children’s school and, according to my kids, the girls were told to tilt their heads while boys were told to sit up straight.

Why is posing for school pictures an issue we ought to care about?

First of all, why is a kid taught to position her head according to what gender she is? How stupid is that?

Secondly, the classic female head tilt is one of the most annoying qualities of the ubiquitous, submissive princess. In coloring books, toy figures, and on diapers, female figures are most often positioned smiling, eyes lowered, and head tilted.

Imagine you are standing next to someone you love and admire, and that person is giving an important talk. How might you pose? Smiling with a head tilt? That would show you are attentive, supportive, and proud of him. Classic First Lady.

Now if you were the speaker delivering the talk, how might you pose? We’ve made those power positions into figures of speech: “Chin up!” or “Hold your head high” and even “Looking down your nose at someone.” That would be the opposite of a head tilt.

Say you’re Ann Romney and you’ve got to make a speech at the Republican convention. How might you pose to show how grateful, sweet, and non-threatening you still are?

Can you imagine Mitt doing this?

On Reel Girl, I’ve posted about gendered posing from the art of Edouard Manet to Wonder Woman. Ever wonder where our kids get trained to stand like a girl or a boy, besides by museums, toys, and politicians? Apparently, authority figures in America’s schools.

Update: I communicated with my kids’ school and was told by the principal that boys and adults were included in the head tilt, that he was asked to tilt his head ‘ever so slightly,’ but appreciates my concern, and will talk to them about it.

I’m psyched he got back to me right away and is talking to them about it. From what I heard from my kids, it wasn’t a slight head tilt, more like the princess kind, and they were telling me about the individual, not group, photos. Here is the web site from the photoform. What do you think of these images? (After you click, wait a second for them to come up)

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It’s photo day at my kid’s school, and if I pay a little more, my daughter gets treated like a supermodel!

If I order “Basic Retouching,” her face comes back to me blemish free. For even more perfection in my first grader’s portrait, I can buy “Premium Retouching” which  “whitens teeth, evens skin tone, removes blemishes, scars, and flyaway hair.” Think that includes replacing lost teeth?

Unfortunately, Lifetouch, no matter how much airbrushing you offer us parents, you can’t get past those cheesey backgrounds and fake smiles. Even skin tone is the least of your challenges. In fact, your best quality is how you regularly and consistently document the humiliation of picture day. We’d all be better off if you stopped trying to get more money out of us and just let kids be kids, flyaway hair and all.


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I am reading Prisoner of Azkaban, the third Harry Potter installment. Here’s the first paragraph of Chapter Two:

Harry went down to breakfast next morning to find the three Dursleys already sitting around the kitchen table. They were watching a brand new television, a welcome-home-for-the-summer present for Dudley, who had been complaining loudly about the long walk between the fridge and the television in the living room. Dudley had spent most of the summer in the kitchen, his piggy little eyes fixed on the screen and his five chins wobbling as he ate continually.

Do fat people always sit around and watch TV? Are fat people obsessed with their refrigerators? Do they eat all day long? Are fat kids spoiled and self-indulgent? Are there thin people who are lazy and addicted to television?

Before you argue that my irritation with the portrayal of Dudley means that I want to censor artists with my PC views– the fat, evil character is a cliche. It’s not original, and its ubiquity in kidlit doesn’t show imagination or innovation. You know what would be creative? Fat heroes in kidlit, showing fat characters who are good, magical, and smart. Fat characters who are leaders, not followers. Fat protagonists, not the sidekicks or comic relief.

When you teach your kid that people come in different shapes and sizes, as well as colors and genders, and one is no better than the other, it sucks to read in books and see movies where fat characters are continually derided and made fun of by the hero of the book. In most of kidlit, as well as movies, when others are teased or mocked, there is usually a lesson to be learned: bullying is bad. But fat characters are exceptions to that rule: making fun of them and teasing them is often portrayed as justified and deserved.

I just watched the movie Chamber of Secrets, the second Harry Potter, where Crabbe and Goyle, Malfoy’s dumb sidekicks are lured into a trap by cupcakes: their appetites are their stupidity.

As I just posted, I’ve only read books one and two so far. Commenters told me that Dudley redeems himself in later books, and also that Mrs. Weasley is a positive fat character.  But does Dudley’s later redemption justify the mockery? Does Mrs. Weasley just happen to be fat, or is her fat part of her character and the dilemmas she finds herself in? Dudley’s fat is Dudley.

Update: I finished the chapter: More fat-shaming in Harry Potter: the inflating of Aunt Marge

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The New York Times piece on gender-fluid kids reinforces so many stereotypes, I’ve got to go through them.

Let’s start with sentence #1:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”

Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.

Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female  is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?

A few more sentences down:

Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.

Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.

On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:

Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.

What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school?  Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look?  You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?

First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)

There have always been people who defy gender norms.

No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?

Moving on to page 2:

Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.

Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.

The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.

Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?

Next page:

Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?

Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:

Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?

Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.

The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.

Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.

Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.

When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”

But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.

On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:

Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.

Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?

Here might be the most fucked up quote:

When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?

When Miss Representation posted that on its Facebook page  above the link to the the article, angry commenters immediately began to respond:

i am NOT the lesser gender!
why can’t people see how insulting that is? i mean, who would *openly* call a race or ability or sexual orientation “lesser” and not largely be considered a bigot?

It was that comment that inspired me to write this post, because the whole piece is insulting to girls and women. I hope it’s insulting to boys and men as well.

Read my email to the New York Times editor here.

Read my response to comments on this post here.

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One more thing that really bothered me about Disneyland– and again, it’s not so different than San Francisco: I heard parents berate their kids for wasting food. I heard a mom yell at her kid because the girl did not finish her pink mountain of cotton candy. Seriously.

It’s not that I can’t understand parental frustration and anger when your child doesn’t eat what she’s asked for. You’ve stood on the line. You paid $5 for the cotton candy and the kid doesn’t eat it? It’s annoying, no doubt. But take a look at what you’re doing: you are making your kid eat that crap because you don’t want to “waste” it?

I suppose your other option is to refuse to buy your kid the cotton candy. But in my experience, not allowing her to have the “forbidden” food only glamorizes it, making her want it even more.

My daughter did the same not eating thing to me when I got her the cotton candy (which is HUGE otherwise how could they charge that much money?) She had about three bites. Literally. There was a tiny, furry cave in the mountain. Then she said her tummy didn’t want anymore. I always tell her to listen to her tummy about how much to eat. I threw it out in one of the many waste baskets that Disneyland so generously provides. (I’m not being sarcastic here. I was really impressed by all of the waste baskets at Disneyland, color coded for recycling, again just like San Francisco. There are also water fountains everywhere. Disneyland is also incredibly well equipped for people with disabilities, all of the rides and swimming pools, but I digress.) Wow, just realized I wrote my daughter “did the same thing to me.” See? We take it all so personally.

Here is what you are doing when you tell your kid not to waste food: you make her feel shame, guilt, and worry associated with eating. (And for goodness sake, haven’t you ever thought you could eat more than you actually could? Do you want someone berating you? Or do you just do it to yourself in your own head? Stop that, too.)

When you berate your kid for wasting food, not only do you make her feel shame, guilt, and worry but you make her concerned about your approval in association with her eating. In this day and age, your kid has enough to do maintaining her ability to listen to and respond to her own hunger cues, to her own body. Your focus should be supporting her in that. Unfortunately, there are many ways in our current culture for a brain, especially a female brain, to get wired up to make guilt, shame, and worry part of the human eating experience. Many of those factors parents can do very little about. But no longer ordering your kid not to waste food is one thing you CAN do something about. So bite your tongue. Think about or feel your own issues around “wasting” food, but don’t project your issues onto a little kid.

To be sure, food waste is a national problem: 20 to 30% food in the U.S. is wasted. Not only that,  10% of U.S. energy is used to put food on the table so global warming is affected by food waste. Nor is it debatable that American rates of obesity are growing, believed to hit 42% by 2030. Americans have a disordered relationship with food, but berating a kid is a short-term, simplified, superficial “solution” that exacerbates the problem instead of healing it. Also, in the long run, a kid with who has a healthy relationship with food is less of a strain on the family budget than a kid with an eating disorder. So get creative with leftovers. (There are more great tips for raising healthy kids on a budget in the book Preventing Childhood Eating Disorders.)

Admonishing your kid not to waste food may not make her fat (I just wrote that as a headline so people who put their kids on diets would read this post) but it can easily contribute to making her eating disordered and her mind crazy. It’s not worth it. One might even call it a waste.


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“What’s the difference between fat and dumb?” asked my five year old. She had no idea. My kid. She’d gotten in a fight with another kid in her kindergarten class and maybe or maybe not called her fat. This according to the other kid’s mom. My kid denied using the word but then asked me that question. For what its worth, the other kid is not “fat.”

Today, Cinderella Ate My Daughter author Peggy Orenstein posted on her blog “Fat is a Preschool Issue.” She writes:

What’s new, however, is the ever-earlier age at which children—girls particularly– become conscious of weight. In  Schoolgirls I cited  a study revealing  that 50% of  9-year-old girls were dieting (check this  Wall Street Journal article  by a reporter who, to see for himself, interviewed  a group of girls  when that study came out; he talked to them again recently as adults).  But now, it appears, by age three girls equate thinness with beauty, sweetness, niceness and popularity; they associate “fat” meanwhile with laziness,  stupidity and friendlessness.

Orenstein posts pictures of characters then and now.

Here are three:

Rainbow Brite’s before and after pictures:

Dora the Explorer:

Care Bears:

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That’s the caption for an Elizabeth Arden ad I saw in O Magazine. Here it is:

I know there’s hardly any point in getting pissed off about sexist ads from cosmetic companies, but the mom being “beautiful” gives her daughter something to look forward to?

Are you kidding me?

What really drives me crazy about this fucked up commercial is that we get all pissed off and holier than thou about moms who put their daughters in beauty pageants or shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras.” This ad from Elizabeth Arden in a mainstream magazine sends the exact same message: mothers and daughters are connected by a mutual obsession with beauty, and beauty will lead them both to success and adventure.

The difference between “Toddlers and Tiaras” and this Elizabeth Arden ad? Class. Moms with money may buy expensive cream. Moms with less money may put their kids in beauty pageants. Getting upset by one and not the other is like saying you’re not an alcoholic as long as you drink aged scotch or expensive wine. We owe our children more than this.

Elizabeth Arden, my daughters have more to look forward to than being “beautiful.” Please leave my kids out of your stupid commercial.

If you agree and are offended by this ad, please tell Elizabeth Arden on its Facebook page.

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This morning my five year old went to her food shelf, got out her plastic pumpkin tub of candy, ate half a Crunch bar, and then asked for a bowl of Cheerios.

I’ve posted on Reel Girl quite a bit about how I let my kids eat what they want, when they want, and however much they want.

They love getting dressed up for Halloween and they love the idea of getting candy, but the actual candy is no big deal. Every year, the “day after,” I am eternally grateful to be free of the fights and power struggles that can accompany Halloween candy.

Read more about how I feed my kids here.

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I made that headline up, because sometimes it’s hard to realize how deep sexism goes. It’s a weird headline, right?

I recently posted on stats from Dove that only 11% of girls are comfortable calling themselves beautiful. But just asking that question shows a distorted view of female worth mangled in the language of beauty.

I wrote in my post that “feeling beautiful has come to mean feeling good: comfortable, powerful, competent.” But that doesn’t go far enough.

Years ago, getting better from an eating disorder, I had to learn to decode what “feeling fat” really meant. It was like becoming bilingual. Fat is not a feeling, I was told. It’s not? Thin isn’t a feeling either. Who knew? Fat, I finally learned, stood in for all kinds of emotions including anxiety, shame, panic, hopelessness, on and on. Thin included feeling excited, inspired, or happy.

I remember how in the 80s, Gloria Gaynor’s hit “I Will Survive” was supposed to be this anthem of female independence. But I couldn’t imagine a man belting that out and feeling empowered (do men even get “empowered”?). It would be funny, right? Or I think of all the modern day princess movies where the protagonist is so independent she actually chooses who to marry but the whole movie is still all about marriage. Or, as I wrote about the movie “Ratatouille,” the female chef is given a monologue where she complains about sexism but the cartoon itself had no female star. When the framework itself is sexist, it’s practically impossible to break out of the dogma because you’re trapped inside of it. Studies like Dove’s are important because they show the trap but they don’t point the way out.

Last night, my daughter drew two princesses, and she said, “There’s a brave one and a pretty one.” (The princesses, by the way, looked exactly the same.)

I said, “Honey, can’t the brave one be pretty too? Being brave makes her pretty.” Which is the case with men, their attributes make them attractive. But of course, that’s all too cerebral for a 5 year old so I told her a story instead (about a brave princess, loved and admired by all.) I keep thinking that’s the best way to change the world.

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