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September 7, 2013 / missmarymax

An Open Letter to My Dieting Facebook Friends

I’m writing today to let you know that I get it.

I get your feelings about your body. I get how badly you want your body to change. I do.

I know those feelings. I know the curled-up-in-a-ball, choking-on-your-own-snot sobbing that can come with just wanting to finally (please — please-for-the-love-of-god) be beautiful. Or thin. Or, for fuck’s sake, just ok, just ok, so that when people size you up as they walk by, you know they’re not doing it because you’re wrong. Just ok enough to look in the mirror and not have that feeling — that shamed/ sick/ how-the-fuck-am-I-this-person feeling. To look like you look in your head, to look how you’re desperate to look. To be lovable and to have the fact that you’re lovable reflected in your skin and your shape and your size. To just be normal or desirable or — goddamnit — pretty.

I know what it’s like to want that so bad you ache, and what’s more, I know that wanting it  – wanting it that badly – is not the sole province of those of us with eating disorders, with the diagnoses and treatments to attest to it. This want is the norm. It may not be universal, but it’s real and it’s constant for the vast majority.

So, I get it. I get it.  And I’m not here to tell you that you’re being a shit feminist or a shit human when you express the desire to change your body. I’m not here to tell you the world is so much bigger than the size of your waistline. Because I know what it’s like to be curled up in that ball, feeling like you’ve been set on fire (or like you wish you had), because goddamnit, you just need your body to be right. And I know how absolutely not-helpful it is to have someone who claims to love you, however well-meaning they are, tell you that there are more important things than weight. It’s the “people out there are starving” to your “I’m allergic to Brussels sprouts.” It’s not relevant. It’s not helpful. And it’s not kind.

The reality is this: it’s human nature to desire love, to seek it out in every way we can. To try and assure its presence. And it’s the reality of a person – nearly any person – in our culture to have internalized the idea that being lovable means having a body that’s ‘right’, (where ‘right’ means attractive and thin and toned and symmetrical and unscarred by acne, and…) So, I’m not here to tell you to stop being affected by the culture that raised you and that lives in your head. I’m not here to tell you you’re shallow for desiring love and approval, or that you must be — should be — stronger than I am myself.

I’m not even here to tell you that you’re gorgeous (although I tend to think you are). Or that you’re already lovable (although I wouldn’t have you in my life if you weren’t). I’m not here to tell you that you’re already-pretty-already, that you’re already desirable, or that you don’t have to do anything else to be loved and good and kept. Because my knowing your body is just fine – fuh-ine even – does shit-all toward you feeling better about it, yourself. I know that too. I know that, even when you would cut off your arm (or stitch up your stomach, or run yourself sick, or eat rice-cakes like they’re edible) to hear someone say “da-amn, you look good” – hearing others praise your good looks does nada toward healing your body image. In the long-term, when you’re looking at your reflection in the mirror, the tag in your jeans, or the number on your scale, no amount of praise from others will change how you feel toward yourself.

I get that.

And I get that it’s not in my power to decide how you feel about your body. That me asking you to feel differently doesn’t do anything but make you feel how you feel this same way, without my support as your friend. I get that me asking you not to talk about how you feel is just me asking you to feel that way, silently. And I don’t want to do that.

I don’t want to ask you not to communicate because I really do care how you feel. And I care about your autonomy; it’s important to me that you live your life your way. What and how you eat, when and how you move — that’s your business, not mine. And if you want to share about those things on your Facebook page, you have every right to do so. If you want to share about changes to your weight (or the lack of them) and how that makes you feel, that is also your business. Personally, I like to post relentless cultural criticisms, political petitions, and schmoopy musings about my boo.  No one has the right to tell me that I over-share or that I need to stop posting every cute thing my girlfriend says. After all, I have every right to post those things, and they have every right to defriend me or to hide my posts, as they prefer.

I have that same rights in regard to your diet, body, and food talk. I have the right to look away.

But, to my knowledge, there’s no Facebook app that blocks, simply, the posts about your exercise regime, your changing waistline, and your scale. I wish there was. I wish there was because I don’t actually want to de-friend you. I don’t want to hide your posts. I don’t want to stop knowing the things that you want to share with me. And still, at the same time — these are not the things I friended you to know.

Do you know that? Do you know that, while you have every right to post whatever the fuck you want, I don’t keep in touch with you online because I miss your diet talk?

I keep in touch with you online because I miss you.

I miss your impersonations of professors over coffee. I miss the way you talk freely about sex. I miss your anecdotes and the way that – in your hands – an awkward moment becomes sudden comedy gold. I miss the way you confide in me, the way you stumble about when you’re exhausted, the way you light up when you’re revived. I miss your love of that band only you have heard of, your art, and your outlandish plans. I miss the way you let your guard down when something hurt you, how you’re funny and also smart. I miss your pet peeves and your surprises.

Because I love that person. I miss hanging out with them.

And I get, intimately, that you are also this thing. This desire to be pretty or thin or fit or ok. I get how that is intricately wired into your feelings and I don’t expect it to be otherwise. But I don’t get to know that part — that pain and that triumph — any better, when you talk about the numbers on the scale or the food on your plate. I just know the numbers. I just know the meals. And while I care about every part of you, that part of your life is not what I miss.

This is my truth and I think it’s some other folks’ as well: the truth is, most of us know what the body stuff is like. Sometimes, when we read posts like yours, we feel our own body-shame creep back up. Sometimes we leave comments about how we wish we were losing weight too, or how we share your pain, or how we shouldn’t have eaten this, that, or the other thing. It is really, really easy for all of us to fall into this pattern. To bond with you over how crappy we feel about our bodies. Or to feel crappy and not say anything. Or to not bond with you because, in order to do so, we have to bond to diet talk. And some of us can’t do that. Me, for instance. Personally, I broke up with diet talk awhile ago, and I broke up with it, for good.

So, I don’t end up bonding with you through these posts. I end up missing you more.

I end up bored and hurt and missing you. I end up wondering if there are other things you wish you could share. Or things you don’t even think about sharing that I would love to know.

I would love to know if the air is starting to turn crisper where you are, whether you’re craving pumpkin lattes or missing the pool. I’d love to know what made you smile today and what made you groan. What you miss about college, what’s disappointing you these days, what’s better than you expected. I’d love to know about your other struggles, your other triumphs, your other frustrations and feats. I want to know, again, the person you are, beyond the diet.

We all choose which pieces of ourselves to share online, which posts, which photographs, which statuses. Sometimes we fall into patterns: We only post photos of our kid. We only vent about our boyfriend. We only share memes from George Takei.

Ok. Ok. You have every right.

But if you ever look at that pattern and think, “hey, this isn’t actually connecting me to folks” or “god, I don’t actually feel more known,” I want you to know you aren’t alone. I’m here. And I miss you.

At just this size.

August 19, 2013 / missmarymax

Jenny Craig Gets Animated

(I don’t usually write satire, but – in rare cases like this one – I feel compelled. The first paragraph is honest-to-blog factual, but after that, you take me seriously at your own risk. Kthxbai.)

*

Late last week, Jenny Craig announced that they’re dropping human celebrities from their ads in favor of new, animated models. The move follows a recent Ace Metrix report, which suggests that ads without celebrities do better than ads with celebrities. Jenny Craig is determined to take the concept one step further and see how their ads do without humans, period.

“We’re all very excited about this shift,” says marketing director and company spokesperson, Annie Bodde. “Really, it’s been the logical direction for our company to take for some time, and we expect others will follow suit. The old ‘before-and-after’ advertising [involving humans] had such built-in limitations. So many times, we were restricted to a single day of filming, and so we were literally trying to turn a really beautiful body into an ugly ‘before’ shot just with lighting and all that. Even when we’d get a chance to use a model — someone we’d shelled out a significant chunk of change to see lose some weight — there’d be that dreaded ‘after-the-after’ period, when 95% of our human models would regain what they’d lost. So, basically, we were expending a lot of energy transforming that after-the-after period into a new-before. And ultimately the whole process just created a lot of preposition-based confusion, and you know, none of us signed on to be English majors.”

Asked about potential models for the new campaign, Bodde was coy. “There’s a lot still in the works, but I can give you a couple of leads. We’re still in talks with some heavy-hitters. Think Marvel, you know? Think Mattel.”

Although many of these “heavy hitters” have yet to be signed, some initial celebrities are coming forward. Princess Ariel, who gained fame following her leading role in biopic The Little Mermaid, has signed on as one of the first pixelated-models for the new campaign. The Princess, who has – in recent decades – largely shifted her focus from film to merchandising, considers partnering with Jenny Craig a logical next step in her career.

 

Close up of doe-eyed Princess Ariel, from shoulders up, with red locks pouring to the side of her face, one barette, one dangling earring visible, and a shy smile.

Princess Ariel displays the doe-eyed visage she effortlessly maintains.

“I’ve been tied to many products in the past – beginning with action figures and moving increasingly toward cosmetics and my line of bath accessories. What’s exciting about this partnership for me is that I no longer have to sell a product; I can be the product. I mean, my ‘body’ type can. And that’s such a relief, from a production standpoint, because there’s literally nothing I have to do to maintain that.”

Asked about the controversy surrounding the company’s choice, The Princess does not mince words. She terms the detractors “guppies” and adds, “I can’t believe [companies like Jenny Craig] haven’t approached digital models in the past.  I may have needed Ursula’s help to lose those pesky gills and tails, (laughs), but I have had no trouble maintaining this waistline. I have had no trouble keeping up a ‘body’ like this, which – let’s face it – would be impossible for most [non-digital] children.”

Fellow Jenny Craig model, Gaston, agrees.

 

Gaston, seated in a hunting lodge, flexes his outlandish muscles and smirks proudly at the viewer.

Gaston prepares for his first Jenny Craig spot by flexing his many (digital) muscles.

“It will be much, much easier for us,” says the body-builder, who declines comment on both his criminal past and the rumors of his untimely death. “Let’s stick to what matters,” he says. “In the past, I was downing a good 5 dozen eggs a day. I was roughly the size of a barge, granted, but the upkeep. Finally, my boy Lefou says to me, ‘You don’t have to do this. You’re animated.’ And it was like a light bulb- y’know- lit. You have to keep in mind, animated food has zero calories. Those eggs had zero protein – ZILCH. So all these things you hear about – eating well, exercising – they have even less to do with our ‘body’ types than they do for human models. We’re at a clear advantage, on account of our not being people.”

With that perspective in mind, Jenny Craig is set to pull existing ads and roll out new, animated spots in the next few weeks. The company and its new models remain optimistic about their success.

“This move, it’s just a no-brainer,” says Princess Ariel. “These products simply work much, much better for those of us who don’t have bodies.”

(Despite my deep-seated desire to make Ariel my BFF, I have no rights to said princess, nor to that sassy cad, Gaston. In keeping with my desire to distance myself from all things diet-culture, I also have no rights to or affiliations with the Jenny Craig company. Aight? Aight.)

June 21, 2013 / missmarymax

Terms of Subservience: On Kickstarter & Crowd-Funded Rape Culture

Content warning for discussion of rape culture.

*

Y’all, I love crowdfunding. This should come as no shock. I’ve seen crowdfunding secure medical treatment for at-risk patients, create the first non-medical transgender studies journal, and publish a gender-neutral picture book explaining reproduction. The fangirl in me, who signed countless petitions to see Promised Land and Joan of Arcadia returned to the airwaves,* is in awe of a media landscape in which fans can secure a new season of a beloved television show 7 years after its cancellation. In which, come hell or highwater, Veronica Mars will return to Neptune to solve another crime.

Of course, any tool – including the tools of the Web – can be used for the bland as well as the brilliant. We’re getting a Garden State sequel we may not have needed. Countless valuable projects are going unfunded, lost among the pitches for Melissa Joan Hart rom-coms.  The Web is not a place where the fittest project necessarily survives. It is certainly not a place where justice conveniently rises to the top.

It can, in point of fact, be a place where downright damaging projects find their base. This is what we’ve seen the past several days, as a Kickstarter campaign funding a “seduction manual” (widely decried as a guide to sexual assault**) has sparked international backlash.

To be clear, it’s not surprising to me that this campaign was created. There’s a shocking lack of education about the realities of rape, outside of the “stranger danger” narrative. There’s a serious ignorance of the ways rape culture intersects with (and distorts) our ideas of masculinity, of romance, and of sex. It’s also not surprising that this campaign was funded; there are plenty of people out there desperate to connect with each other. (And rightfully so, — connection is awesome).  There are plenty of people who are oblivious to the critical uselessness of such generalized relational “tips” and uneducated about the hazards of these tips, specifically. So, it’s not surprising. But it is disheartening. And it’s similarly disheartening that, when notified of the campaign by more than 60,000 users, fans, and concerned citizens of the Web, Kickstarter refused to pull funding for the book.

This morning, material that a project creator posted on Reddit earlier this year was brought to our and the public’s attention just hours before the project’s deadline. Some of this material is abhorrent and inconsistent with our values as people and as an organization. Based on our current guidelines, however, the material on Reddit did not warrant the irreversible action of canceling the project.

As stewards of Kickstarter we sometimes have to make difficult decisions. We followed the discussion around the web today very closely. It led to a lot of internal discussion and will lead to a further review of our policies.

So, while the company finds the campaign “abhorrent” they do not believe it in violation of their terms of service and, therefore, will let it stand. This is an increasingly standard defense among sites that host content they do not create. It’s the reason Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram cite, to explain why they ban images of breastfeeding, while allowing slut-shaming posts. It’s the constitution of the website; any violation, so long as it can be said not to violate this sacred contract, can stand. Never mind those precious ethics.

Except, of course, that we do mind.

It’s hard to look at the response (or non-response) from Kickstarter in terms of this campaign without remembering the pressures placed on Facebook, mere weeks ago, to rethink their terms of service for similar reasons.  Last month, Women, Action, and the Media spearheaded a campaign sending over 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails, urging Facebook to prohibit gender-based hate speech in its terms of service and to enforce its existing and revised TOS with regard for women as a targeted group.  After decades of Internet culture ruled by Lewis’ Law (the comments on any article about feminism justify feminism)***  — this specific brand of vitriol and violence has become a social justice hot topic, with organizations and activists banding together – more successfully than ever before – to see policies changed.

Change – for the better, for the worse, and for the simply different – is a constant output on the Web. I’m fascinated by the ways Web tools, including social networking and crowdfunding sites, are reshaping our interactions, online and off.  It’s my fascination and my excitement about those tools, about their accomplishments and their potential, which compels me to press for us to ask the necessary questions and take the necessary steps to ensure those changes are just. That the spaces we create and revise, online and off, are not mere reiterations of the same old privilege and harm.

In order to do this, we need terms of service that protect the common good, not terms that promote harm against targeted groups. If a site’s terms of service can be read to prohibit hate-based and sexually violent material – what will it take to have those terms consistently interpreted to protect against these practices?  If the terms don’t include these offenses, what will it take to have them revised?

Who must be involved in creating – and revising – the constitutions of the web, before we begin to see a sea change?

At the most basic level- how many survivors does it take to change a standard?

*We all have skeletons.

** If you have the spoons to stomach some excerpts, you’re welcome to see for yourself.

***Thanks, Melissa, for teaching me this last night.

UPDATE:  Since the publication of this post, Kickstarter has released a second statement. They’ve updated their policies to ban “seduction guides” and similar materials and they have donated $25,000 to RAINN, an organization they believe  “combats exactly the sort of problems our inaction may have encouraged.” You can read the full statement here.  (Many thanks to John O’Dwyer for the heads-up on this.)

April 23, 2013 / missmarymax

Book Tag: Fictional Bucket List

Transcript pending.

April 19, 2013 / missmarymax

No Comment: On Actively Opting Out of Atrocity Play-By-Play

Increasingly, I don’t post about major, tragic news events. In the media firestorm that follows, when most people seem to spend more time on social media, posting more frequently, I actively take time away from my phone and my computer. When I do engage with news coverage, I do so in small bursts, and I rarely share what I read. These are my choices, and – more and more – they are choices I make mindfully. They’re choices I make in spite of the fact that I’m usually very active on social media and that I share a great deal of “difficult” and “upsetting” content through these forums. They’re choices I make, in part, because immersing myself in 24-hour news coverage (of the kind of events that warrant it) floods me emotionally. Essentially, I make these choices because I have experienced the depression and anxiety that follows, for me personally, when I don’t make them.

I don’t opt for this response because I believe it’s an exclusive “right” choice.  I absolutely believe these events need coverage, need sharing, expressions of solidarity and sympathy, commitments to action, and action. But if I post about a major news event, in the midst of that event unfolding, I’m likely to focus on resources for people experiencing that event as a trigger, the importance – for many of us – of taking media breaks, or the fact that none of us are less valuable or compassionate humans for choosing to turn off the reports.

As someone who absolutely believes in taking action, in not passively making myself complicit in these kinds of horrors, I’ve thought a lot about this silence, what it means, and whether – despite it being what I need personally – it aligns with my values for engaging the world beyond.  Currently, I believe it can. I don’t believe it does, automatically, but I believe it can. Surely every RT of the same (often misinformed) news byte is not a necessary act of change.  Why then, should opting out of the sharing process, be a de facto barrier to it?

(I don’t believe it is.)

Lately, I’ve had far too many opportunities to implement my new, evolving practice of opting out of these particular social media (and IRL) storms.  Slowly, I’m developing some guideposts for myself and beginning to understand how to better do what I want to do – and can do safely – in these situations.  I’m sharing them now, for whatever they’re worth to those of you in similar shoes:

I choose to opt out of the coverage, but strive to pursue the solutions. In other words, I think long and hard about the ways that our culture encourages these kinds of atrocities. Sometimes I think about this as the events unfold, sometimes weeks afterward. I investigate the campaigns and reforms I feel could make a difference. If I don’t know what those campaigns are, I find time to reflect on my sense of helplessness, to read, research, and generally search them out. And then I participate. These actions, unlike the content that brings them into my awareness, I share widely.

I try to pair my “silence” in the post-disaster conversation with critiques of how that conversation unfolds (or with clear alternatives). I’m increasingly aware that not RTing the standard meme or posting the standard status does not have to mean choosing to disengage from these issues altogether. This post is one example of engaging with these topics in different terms. Some others, which have meant a lot to me today:

  • This morning, Angus Johnston (@studentactivism) interrupted my regularly scheduled Crisis Twitter Feed by live-tweeting an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. The result was striking. Just as Fred Rogers feeding fish or tying his shoes for minutes at a time slowed the hyperactive pace of children’s programming, Johnson’s shared recaps recreated steadiness and calm, in the midst of a cultural response that can easily mirror and exacerbate the chaos.
  • Lesley Kinzel (@52stations) also creatively engaged the meta-conversation, this time with “breaking coverage” of reported zombie uprisings that included Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. Obviously, humor is one of the quickest ways to trigger accusations of “callousness” – but, for me, that risk itself raises important questions. For instance, why isn’t “tragedy-as-watercooler-small-talk” considered equally callous? Why are ‘how informed we are’ and ‘how well we comply with post-disaster etiquette’ more important standards for judgment than what we’re doing to put an end to these events?

I believe it’s important for us to discuss the way we respond to these issues. I don’t think the FB memes and the TV coverage should be considered appropriate or positive simply because they’re the status quo. So if I’m opting out, I want to be opting out in a way that calls attention to the dangers of our current response. I want to be opting out, by choice, and with clarity of meaning.

I focus on responsibly managing my own use of media rather than directing anyone else’s. My least favorite Facebook post, in any cultural moment, is the one that starts “I can’t stand people who post ___.”

Yes, I personally find the social media posts that swell  in the hours and days following a major tragedy incredibly difficult to process. Yes, I find the way we share and discuss these events dangerous, on personal and political levels. But that doesn’t mean other people have any less right to post as they are. Frankly, I believe there are irresponsible ways of engaging in these conversations and irresponsible ways of disengaging from them, and I believe “my response is more socially responsible than yours” is a dangerous trap for people in each of those camps.

How useful is this approach? I don’t know. I hope, in the future, I have fewer opportunities to test it.

*

For the record, at the moment, my search for solutions has led me to explore the Zinn Education Project, Roots of Empathy, Americans for Responsible Solutions and the concept of “cultural violence.” I’m forever seeking other approaches, organizations, and ideas.

October 24, 2012 / missmarymax

Political Phone Calls

Full transcript of this post after the cut. Read more…

October 4, 2012 / missmarymax

September Book Reviews

New vlog reviewing books I read in September. Full transcript (and fancy picspam!) under the cut. Read more…