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The trash diet
Wednesday July 20th 2005, 12:04 pm
Filed under: Beauty,entertainment,health / healing,media
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Our minds work in mysterious ways. I would imagine we all are made aware of that from time to time during some early morning fogginess, just barely awake and remembering the weirdest dream we’ve ever had. Miniature cows swimming in a fish tank, being in a car that’s about to jump a gap in a railroad trestle, recalling being in a house that was supposed to be our house but that looked much more like a set from a TV show we had watched in the evening before we went to bed. How does the brain put this stuff together? I believe that, in the case of our dreams, this is our phyche working out the kinks. Processing as if in a blender some of the recent images we have seen, stresses we have experienced, or thoughts that we have had.

But can the images to which we expose ourselves during our awake time, intentionally or unintentionally, have an effect on our conscious lives? Can they help to create patterns of behavior that we may not even realize are being forged? If someone were to have asked me that a few weeks ago, I would have answered, “Yes, of course.” But I wouldn’t have really understood the implications. Now I do.

I have had a lifelong challenge (I just changed that word from “struggle” to “challenge”. Aren’t I a good, empowered girl!) with weight and body image issues. Since the age of twelve, I have been told in one way or another that I am FAT. First by the jealous girls at school because I developed early and had boobs and all the boys loved me – I was by no means overweight, then by the TV shows I watched. I had a brief respite during my college career, entering what was the void of training to be a professional classical musician. But a few years later, back into the downtown San Francisco workforce I went, surrounded by billboards and beautiful-skinny-stylish-trendy people. Right alongside those were the donut and cookie shops. Nice.

In the recent years of my life there have been triumphs and there have been errors in judgment. I have completed a triathlon, which has completely changed for the better my view of myself in terms of physical activity and endurance. I have fasted twice for five months at a time in desperation to become more “beautiful”. I have also managed to, for the first time in my life, lose weight using only natural means – eating well and exercising regularly. Imagine that! And now I am on the path to permanently changing old patterns of behavior, being gentle and patient with myself. I refuse the urges to become desperate and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Now if only I could get rid of that negative voice inside of me, I could do all of these things and actually feel GOOD about myself at the same time! But that’s a blog for another day…

About a year or so ago, I let my sister in on the secret that I LOVE to get my hands on trash mags at the doctor’s office, or as a special treat on a plane trip. You know, People, US Weekly, and yes, (oh, this is so embarrassing), even Star. Well, for my birthday in September, she got me subscriptions to US Weekly and Star magazines. Ooh I was so excited!! Trashy reading material at my disposal, 24/7. Stars once a week and US Weeklies once a month! Woo hoo! I thought it was silly, and fun, and entertaining. I never looked at them longingly, or consciously felt worse about myself after reading a bit. I read them from time to time, not every day or anything, and never thought about them otherwise. Again, it was just silly, fun and entertaining.

I have had the incredible fortune of enlisting a fabulous intuitive life coach to help me move towards my goals and get more connected with my passion. In only my second meeting with her, I was telling her of my challenges with that negative voice inside of me. [Note: She knows nothing of my little obsession with trash mags.] And as I was telling her about the things that I wanted to do but didn’t feel like I could because I was too fat, or not good enough, she stopped me. She said she just wanted to put something out there, and if it made sense to me that we could explore it some more. She said that as I was saying these things, she was reading my energy an she kept seeing…magazine photos. WHAT???

Apparently, the contents of these magazines have infiltrated my subconscious!!! Yikes! I had no idea to what extent. When my coach pointed out to me that these magazines promote the notion that it is perfectly acceptable to judge women based on superficial factors, my response was, “That’s the way the world works, isn’t it?” And her response to me will stay with me for the rest of my life and be a benefit to my children, “Well, that may be, but that doesn’t matter to ME because those aren’t MY values.” So obvious, but so far from my reality at that point. Have I really been so brainwashed as to think that I have to buy into this sick way of thinking? Apparently so.

I have now begun a trash diet. No more gossip, no more news except from non-mainstream sources, no more celebrity mags. It’s high time to turn my attention inward and stop wasting my energy on useless garbage.

Like my mother used to say – Why do you want to fill your head with that crap?

This is a cautionary tale. How many things do you expose yourself to during the day that might come back to bite you in the ass? Don’t underestimate the power of the images with which we are bombarded on a daily basis. Media outlets have developed sophisticated and insidious ways to get to our subconscious. Beware.

6 Comments so far
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Wow, what an inspiring post. Media has a strange and powerful magic, does it not? Sometimes benign, sometimes uplifting, sometimes dangerous.

All my life I’ve played video games. Obsessively. Compulsively, even. And I’m a programmer, so I type all the time. For about 3 years I’ve suffered pain in my wrists, arms and hands. Finally, I had to give up playing video games. Three years ago I if you had said to me that video games are like crack I would have told you that’s an exaggeration. Today, I need only think back on all the times I continued to play them while still in desperate pain to realize how accurate the analogy really is.

But video games can also be part of that “trash media”, and the point I’m trying to make here is that when I finally did throw them away, I found myself with time on my hands. Instead of using the time to rot in front of a screen, I’ve tried to use it to explore myself and my life. I’ve read more, I’ve done more, and I actually feel like a much more “whole” person for it.

I’m trying to fix my hands, and I desperately want to play video games again, but I know now that if that day ever comes, they will be just one part of my life, not its central, defining characteristic. It’s about moderation, I think. Trash is an escape, a treat to savor once in a while like chocolate. We need it, but if it becomes the center of our diet, we become unhealthy.

Comment by eric 07.20.05 @ 1:45 pm

Although I am biased because I know the writer and think she is a fabulous person, but this post rocks!!! I always feel that the media has too much power over our personal lives and are nothing but voices of fear. Good job Shelby!!!

Comment by Holly 07.20.05 @ 2:59 pm

Thank goodness you wrote this Shelby. Now this is an issue worth going on and on about so let me jump in with you. I found these statistics and sites for those of you who are interested

Body Image Statistics – Dieting Statistics – Body Type Statistics
Over one person’s lifetime, at least 50,000 individuals will die as a direct result of their eating disorder.
Eating Disorders affect a large number of people in the United States. The statistics state that:
• Approximately 7 million girls and women struggle with eating disorders
• Approximately 1 million boys and men struggle with eating disorders
Unfortunately, the media pushes an unnatural body type, making it difficult for us to accept natural beauty:
• The average American woman is 5’4″ tall and weighs 140 pounds
• The average American model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds
• Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women
Children are influenced by their parents, peers and the media:
• 42% of elementary school students between the 1st and 3rd grades want to be thinner
• 80% of children who are ten years old are afraid of being fat
Calorie restriction and other diets are common:
• 25% of men and 45% of women are on a diet on any given day
• 80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance
• 51% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet
• 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 25% will progress to partial or full syndrome eating disorders
• 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted “often” or “always”
• Americans spend over $40 billion on dieting and diet related products each year
The diet industry is a 40 billion dollar industry. This figure is amazing considering 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight within 1-5 years.
If you are hungry for more statistics go to http://womensissues.about.com/cs/bodyimage/

Here are some cool sites too I especially like this next one.

Love Your Body Day! http://loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org/index.html This site is awesome – lots of information for people wanting to get informed on this issue and who want to find some solidarity with other women (us men could probably use some of this wisdom too – at least those of us who don’t look like Brad Pitt). Oh and they have a contest every year for a poster for Love Your Body Day http://www.nowfoundation.org/issues/health/lyb/postercontest.html .

Feminists struggle with body image too – http://www.now.org/nnt/fall-2002/lybd.html

Interesting info and some activist links at this page on Peel Public Health http://www.region.peel.on.ca/health/commhlth/bodyimg/media.htm

Media Awareness promotes critical thinking in young people about the media and they have a nice little spot on this issue http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_beauty.cfm Also they have some of the stereotypes for minorities and other specific groupings.

Thanks Shelby for this great first blog – give us more. Your voice is a wonderful addition to the Driving Socrates community. Welcome.

Comment by andrei hedstrom 07.20.05 @ 6:30 pm

Those statistics about children are frightening. Did kids feel like that about their body image when we were in school, or is this a more recent phenomenon? Either way it’s pretty scary. Couple poor body image in kids with the horrible foods like McDonalds that are very aggressively marketed towards them, and it’s not hard to understand there’s a real problem.

Comment by eric 07.21.05 @ 12:43 pm

I’m 31, and I know I felt that about my body when I was in high school and even junior high. I went on “Nutrisystem” when I was only 15, and I truly did not need it. I can even remember the last summer that I felt good about my body. I was 12.

Thanks for those great links and encouraging words, Andrei! I’m forwarding some of the links to my aunt to look at with her 10 year old daughter.

And thank you, Eric, for participating in this discussion. Video games, much like food or gossip or compulsive exercise, are one of those insidious, socially acceptable addictions. Congrats to you for realizing that you needed a break to re-evaluate their position in your life. Everything in moderation.

Comment by shelby 07.25.05 @ 1:54 pm

Ahhh, Shelby, such a stupendous post! You are such an inspiration! Although it is impossible to limit all of the crap coming in to our minds about our bodies, making deliberate choices to curtail negativ inputs is so powerful. I’m aware of how tough it is to deal with television around this. Example: The L Word. As a lesbian, I am delighted that “my” people are mainstreamed, becoming acceptable. However, how many lesbians do I know who look like that (or have sex that much)? And when I watch it, happy that lesbians are getting good press, what does it do to my own body image?

As a very heavy woman, I have struggled with the Fat Liberation movement, not wanting to identify with it, but feeling like I lack courage when I avoid it. One of my students did her research on women who have RESISTED negative body image messages, and one of her research participants was the woman who wrote the book FAT!SO? (www.fatso.com)–when I went to the site and found a bunch of fat butts, I realized that these butts looked a lot like the butt of the Venus of Willendorf (http://witcombe.sbc.edu/willendorf/willendorfdiscovery.html)
the oldest goddess figure ever found. She was the epitome of female beauty at the time, and I have a figure of her on my dresser to remind me that, had I been born another time, I would fit right in. Another important input to me has been the Healthy at Every Size movement, which combats the stereotype that heavy people can’t be healthy. Because we can’t control a lot of the input that we receive about our bodies, it’s important to bolster ourselves with positive images and messages.

Comment by Sue 07.31.05 @ 8:56 am

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