Women, Food, and Society

I read this article a few minutes ago discussing how the healthcare system does not provide adequate medical care to people (women) suffering from eating disorders, namely anorexia and bulimia.  I know first hand what its like to have one of those eating disorders.  I must say, I don’t blame the healthcare workers for not taking it seriously, because when it comes down to it, its JUST about eating and keeping the food down.

Its tough to overcome an eating disorder.  In actual fact, its mostly something you just have to live with forever.  There’s no getting over it.  Its like a little demon living inside you.  Once you know how to purge, you could easily do it anytime that you don’t feel like packing on calories from the crap you’ve eaten.  And once you know how to live with feeling hungry, and control you eating to that extreme, you are always eating with that mindset.  Even if you reverse the physical effects of extreme starving, your mindset about food will persist.  It is a disorder of the mind.  No amount of drips or treatment of the physical effects will nurse the anorexic/bulimic back to a healthy state of mind.  On the contrary, it will just send them back in a fury starving or binging/purging.

So what puts it in people’s (women’s) mind, the want to be thin?  This is the basis of why they develop and maintain eating disorders.  If they wanted to be really clever for example, they may spend an unhealthy amount of hours obsessed with reading lots of books. The only thing that rang a bell for me in that article is the phrase: “society where thinness is valued and dieting is common”.  And it occurred to me that those were the things we needed to fix in order to get rid of anorexia and bulimia, and no doubt some other common female issues that have persisted through the ages.  Basically, it comes down to three things and the motivation behind them.  The way we dress, the way we eat, and the way society sees our value.

Society  First and foremost:  It has always been a woman’s looks that are noticed first, by the whole world, including women.  It rarely matters (firstly) that she is a scientist, brilliant actress, good mother, fabulous author, gifted artist etc.  What she gets valued for and criticized on, first and foremost, are her looks, her style, her body, and choices around these things.  Just have a look around you.  You’ll see that this is true, even in the way you look at women (even if you are a woman yourself).  I came across this picture the other day:

There you go.  We have accepted it.  We define an attractive man as one who looks dressed for success, and accept, even revel in the fact that we are seen to be attractive by our bodies (nearly naked wearing lingerie to please the desires of who?).  Shame, shame, what a shame!

Society has trained us to take this approach to women.  In us (women), there’s an innate need (maybe another society brainwashing), to please, and to be accepted.  We, perhaps even by our (need to please) nature, buy into this way of life.  Striving to look hot, pretty, younger than we are, thinner (always wanting to be thinner),  so that we can look beautiful.  A woman’s physical beauty is what defines her in society.  Even when she is absolutely incredible in other ways (eg, top executive in a great company), she wants to be that and look hot at the same time.  Many popular storylines in sitcoms and movies portray the nerdy ugly duckling (girl/woman), coming into herself and transforming to a creature of exquisite beauty and fashion sense.   And low self esteem is deemed to be the cause of her not being this definition of beauty and fashion before her transformation.  While men on the other hand, can look sloppy, wrinkly, overweight and generally unattractive, but our eyes will still see him as attractive because of – guess what? – what he does!

Decades ago, society was obsessed with covering up that beauty, protecting the value of a woman so to speak.  Now in modern society, with the coming of rights and freedoms for women, we have misconstrued the revolution in the worst way.  We have accepted that our value lies only in our body and the way it looks.  Not even what it can do.  We reject the paternal masculine societies impositions on us by baring ourselves … because it is our right of course.  Baring ourselves so that men can look and desire, but not touch.  We can shame men for their primal instincts, force them to control it, by fighting for our rights to bare ourselves.  We reinforce in the justice system that no-one is allowed to touch/violate us not matter what little we wear.  We bare ourselves at the expense even of our own physical comfort.  We have objectified ourselves.  Objects to be looked at sexually.  What we have done is accepted the chauvinist definition of where our value lies.

It is no wonder then that so many women, young and old, are so obsessed with being thin and starving/purging their way to that goal, so that they can be the smallest size (most feminine and vulnerable), not an inch/fold of fat anywhere, look the neatest in the skimpiest fashionable clothes, feel the  most engulfed and protected in a man’s arms.  And the men, where are they?  They are laughing all the way to the bank (no more need to pay at strip clubs when there’s enough to see everywhere).  We have accepted that what is most feminine is to be fragile, beautiful, to be admired, desired and protected, looked at but not touched, lest we be broken/bruised/stained, like a fragile flower.  Is this not the most useless fight on planet earth – fighting for our right to be naked and not be touched?  Is there nothing more valuable to fight for, for women to evolve towards?  Are we merely fragile flowers? I have enough strong women around me to know that this is not our nature.  I have seen first hand that women, mostly as a result of circumstances, by their nature are strong, physically, emotionally, and intellectually.  Difficult circumstances force a woman to step into her true nature.  Society offers no help or compassion to a woman who’s life has become hard.

The second issue is the shit that we get fed, literally.  This goes for men and women.  If we ate real food, there would be very little overeating and obesity going on.  I read this interesting article which explains the difference between real food and fake processed food.  Basically, processed food is so dense in calories, and void of nutrients.  So many calories in so little space.  No wonder we have to overeat to feel full.  Real food has MUCH less calories for alot more weight and volume,  and is packed with nutrients as well.  So its designed (by nature), to fill you up without overeating in the calorie department.  Why have only two blocks of chocolate when you can have a whole banana!  Processed food is the devil that fuels our unhealthy overweight society which looks towards ridiculous dieting and eating disorders for relief.  Processed food gets marketed to us, and we get addicted to the salt and sugar, which keeps us hooked.

So, parents, be conscious of how you raise your kids.  Be aware.  Awareness is key.  It is only the parents of generations of kids to come who can make a real difference in society’s future.  As for the rest of us, we are brainwashed, even if aware of the fact.  The unhealthy building blocks are cemented in our brains.

Getting into good shape

I always wondered what it would feel like to have a neat body, that didn’t need to be tucked in tight in support garments to appear neat and firm.  One that didn’t need to be repositioned every 20 mins, adjusting this band and that belt, and then  pulling things out of fat folds.  The last time I was in that shape, I was probably 12 years old, and even then I thought I was a michelin man (body dysmorphia).  Soon I will know.


Time and beauty

written for the Weekly Writing Challenge:  The Golden Years

Being a child in South Africa, at the time when I was, was a very strange time to be a child.  At that time, somehow, I don’t know where I got the idea from, but I did not think I was pretty.  I must have got it from the wider South African perception of beauty.  My hair was not quite kroes, not quite straight.   I had brown eyes, not blue, green or hazel.  And of course there was also the color of my skin.  For some reason, I thought I was also fat.  Which I wasn’t.  All these things were also affected by the fact that the cousins I was closest to were tiny, and had smooth, long shiny Indian hair.  Whenever we would have a beauty pagent amongst ourselves, it was always one of them winning.  Once I asked my mother why she had to marry a man with kroes hair.  I swore one day I would get married to a Chinese man so that my children could be pretty.

In South Africa at the time, inside brown circles, beauty was at a high level if the hair was straight, skin light, eyes hazel, blue or green.  If you looked more Malay, more Indian, more white.  Truly, at the top of the beauty ladder was anything white.  At least in my mind that was it.  That thought must have come from somewhere.  People were big on admiring other people with these politically beautiful characteristics.  I did not get admired much.  My sister did because she had dimples.  I will always remember being offered a compliment on being ‘pragtig‘ after the person realized they were complimenting my pretty sister and that they thought I would feel bad.  Looking back even now, I’m sure that’s the way it was.  I’m sure.

Today I look around me and see people who look like me walking around looking and feeling beautiful.  No special dainty, or other facial features, hair half kroes, half straight, brown eyes, not surfboard flat abs or other picture perfect bodies.  People born at least a decade later.  And yes, I too think they are beautiful.  Because yes, they are, and also because confidence is beauty.

After three decades, this warped perception is somehow living inside me still.   Its hard to change something that has become so deeply part of one’s psyche.  In the future I suppose everybody will have to come to terms with losing their physical beauty as age slowly erodes it.  I look forward to that time when beauty is irrelevant.