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Monday, November 22, 2004

Go, Lisa, Go!

I agree with Vanessa at Feministing--the Lisa-on-the-verge-of-bulemia plot of "he Simpsons" last night was great. The thing that made me happiest about it was the humor of it, because contrary to the made for TV movie stereotype, not all women who struggle with body image issues are humorless automans. I know that they probably got a lot of ideas from the actress who voices Lisa and who suffered from bulemia herself, and that really came across in the not-conclusive ending that Vanessa rightly praised.

It doesn't ever end, and that's the truth. A lot of women give up throwing up or whatever, but it's rare that they give up worrying about it. The writers also seemed to understand that intelligence and sensitivity are not a bulwark against body image issues; in fact, being intelligent and sensitive can make body image issues even worse. Every woman I've ever known who gave into the urge to engage in bulemic-type behaviors was smarter than the average bear.

Worrying about how you look is a sane response to a world that over-emphasizes that. Sometimes I think it's easier to be hostile to women who fuss over their weight than accept that they are responding rationally to a world where staying thin will give them a better shot at everything from getting treated well by strangers to landing job promotions. I think I'm less fussy than average when it comes to my body issues, but my feminist principles lead me to refrain from hiding my fussiness, which I think is an understandable reaction to the world I live in. But not hiding leads to its own set of problems. My friends think I have a huge hang-up, whereas I tend to think that if you aren't taking great pains to hide something than it's probably not a problem.

Okay, the psychological issues are confusing, but I'm trying to get at this--I'm not bulemic, but I understand it. And I understand that the mixed signals of our culture breed it--women are to stay thin but also to seem like they do so without any effort whatsoever. Being overweight is considered shameful, but being caught dieting is shameful, too. It becomes easier to eat what's given to you and then throw it up in secret. Kudos to "The Simpsons" for putting together an episode that didn't patronize women for having completely understandable body issues.


Blogger zuzu said...

I didn't see the episode, but I totally understand the sentiment. I think I've posted here before about the fact that I was way heavier growing up (a different kind of eating disorder), then lost weight in college when I left the tension at home. It was odd, I wasn't obsessed with my weight until I started getting into the range of "normal," where guys started noticing me. After a blessed period of not worrying or paying attention to what I ate, I started developing low-level bulimia.

I'm still overweight, more now than I've been in years, due to several years of depression and inactivity. And it does pain me to continue to purge, since I'm a smart woman with an advanced degree.

I will also say, I'm damn lucky that even though I'm significantly overweight, I'm also quite pretty and have a shapely if overstuffed figure. I look good in a suit, and what with the bone structure and lack of double chin, I don't come off as quite as heavy as I actually am (I'm also tall). I have really damn brilliant classmates who aren't as lucky and haven't had the opportunities that I've squandered based on their looks.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't see the episode (We don't get them in order on UK terrestrial TV), but this post is the first time I've read of someone admitting that intelligent women can have eating disorders and poor body image. For me, it was always something I hid because it just wasn't rational, because when my mother found out she acted like I was just being a stupid little girl. For someone who's always hidden behind her intellectual ability, I found that difficult to cope with. I particularly identify with this bit;

Sometimes I think it's easier to be hostile to women who fuss over their weight than accept that they are responding rationally to a world where staying thin will give them a better shot at everything from getting treated well by strangers to landing job promotions.I suppose it was easier for my family and friends to say there was something very wrong with me that was all of my own making, than admit that their urges to diet, binge, starve etc. were in anyway related to mine, or a bad thing. After all, dieting is seen as the norm for adolescent and adult women, it's only when it crosses some imaginary line into mental illness that anyone criticises it, placing the blame squarely on the victim.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a notion in psychology that "mental illness" is actually just a sane reaction to an insane situation. You summed it up perfectly when you said "Worrying about how you look is a sane response to a world that over-emphasizes that."


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