You Must Be Hungry

A food critic grapples with her daughter's eating disorders.

A Tipping Point in Attitudes About Women's Weight?

From Lady Gaga to Jennifer Livingston, women are batting back bullies

 Looking for a smidgen of good news? Let’s turn from the usual political, economic and sports arenas and try, surprisingly, health. Even more surprisingly, we may have reached a tipping point in our attitudes about women and their weight.

As Alessandra Stanley, chief TV critic for the New York Times, reported Oct. 14: “Female Stars Step Off the Scale.” (nytimes.com) Stanley analyzed new TV shows featuring normal and even overweight stars and came to this heartening conclusion:

"Self-acceptance has become a new form of defiance on television.”

Also mentioned, of course, is superstar Lady Gaga, who famously said about gaining 25 pounds: “This is who I am. And I am proud at any size."

This comes on the heels of Wisconsin TV news anchor Jennifer Livingston’s on-air response to a viewer’s email criticizing her weight. He opined that she was not a suitable role model for the community’s children. The man helpfully told Livingston, “Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain.”

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Like she made a lifestyle choice to be fat.

Livingston called the guy out:

“You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine … You know nothing about me other than what you see on the outside … As the mother of three young girls, it scares me to death … If you are at home and you are talking about the fat newslady, guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat. We need to teach our kids to be kind, not critical, and we need to do that by example.”

My daughter, Lisa, and I are cheered by all of this batting back of bullies. For Lisa and many others, early puberty made them easy targets of taunts about their weight. As Lisa writes in our book, Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia (Berkley Books, 2009): 

My weight got noticed by people who knew me, and some who didn’t. On several occasions, as I was walking in our neighborhood, groups of juvenile boys would drive by, and shout out, “Fat!” At a birthday party in seventh grade, we were assigned to two cars and our driver asked who was the biggest girl, so she could sit in the front seat. One of the girls shouted out, mockingly, “Oh it’s Lisa! Lisa is the biggest!”

Eating disorders have complex causes, but relentless messages about body image often trigger a diet. Researchers tell us that 90 percent of eating disorders begin with a diet to lose weight. 

A few months ago, 14-year-old Julia Bluhm, started an online petition objecting to teen magazines digitally altering photographs so that, “I look at the pictures and they just don’t look like girls I see walking down the street.” She met with the editors of Seventeen Magazine and as a result, the entire staff signed an eight-point “Body Peace Pact” to “never change girls’ body or face shapes” and to include only images of “real girls and models who are healthy.”

Maybe it’s too optimistic to read a social revolution into all this. But, not very long ago cellphones were clunky and nobody’s grandmother used Facebook. We won’t know until we have time to look back.

Sheila Himmel is an award-winning food journalist. She and her daughter, Lisa, wrote Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Battle Anorexia.

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