Monday, March 26, 2012

You Aren't What You Eat

You knew I was going to say something about this.

Apparently there is an article in the April issue of Vogue – an essay called “Weight Watcher” by one Dara-Lynn Weiss. I will first admit I have not read the article. I can’t seem to find a full text online, and I haven’t had occasion to pick up an issue of Vogue since…well, not since I leafed through it ages ago and found absolutely nothing relevant to me.

Anyway, the essay is about a mom with a daughter – who, at 6 years old, 4’4” and 93 pounds, is clinically obese. The mother puts the child on some sort of diet, which she then only sort of enforces. When she does enforce it, though, it’s in a weird, draconian, often publicly-shaming way.

Examples from the article include: withholding the child’s dinner when she finds out the food from an international celebration at school was 800 calories, getting between the girl and a salad when the dressing turns out to be olive oil, dramatically tossing the child’s cocoa away at Starbucks when she can’t find the specific nutrition information, and Weiss also writes, “I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week.

(Side note: Oh, the joy that would ensue should I ever hear that my child voluntarily ate a corn salad side dish!)

I guess the article also says that the mother’s goal for the child was that the child lose 16 pounds by a Vogue photo shoot. Because that’s what counts, after all: How terrible the mom would look with a chubby daughter in the pages of Vogue.

This is Weiss and her daughter. Thank goodness the child doesn't weight more or that mom might never be able to show her face in the Vogue offices again. (Photo credit: Vogue)

The mother also admits to having body and diet issues (gee, ya think?) and I don’t think anyone would fault her for not wanting her child to be at an unhealthy weight. But that doesn’t mean she has to be flying in on a broomstick to knock a cupcake out of her daughter’s hand.

I had weight issues as a kid, and still do have weight issues. No, I don’t want my children having weight issues or food issues. But I’m also tired of weight being first and foremost on everyone’s minds, in many cases eclipsing a person's spirit.

At one point in the article, Weiss writes, “'That's still me,' [the child] says of her former self. 'I'm not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.' I protest that indeed she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. 'Just because it's in the past,' [the child] says, 'doesn't mean it didn't happen.'"

It is so profoundly sad to me that this child, now age 7, already knows that her worth, especially in her mom’s eyes, is tied to her weight. God forbid that little girl ever transform back into “that fat girl,” because it’s pretty obvious “that fat girl” has no value as a person.

At the core of my frustration with this one mother’s view of weight is my frustration with many peoples’ views of weight-loss: About 90% of the “I’m half my size!” media you see portrays a person with extra weight as flawed. It’s always “I was eating a 3 egg ham and cheese omelet and 4 donuts for breakfast every day!” and “I was hiding from my past by gaining weight and now that I’ve lost it I’m happy!” 

These aren’t always the stories. Sometimes there are content, well-adjusted people who weigh more than others. Sometimes there are obese people who eat far less, and far healthier, than many thin people.

No one is going to disagree that it is a parent’s responsibility to give their children the building blocks for health – a decent variety of food and opportunities for activity. And an obese child certainly needs extra attention to ensure that she grows up healthy.

And I gotta give it to Weiss for being honest about her reality. It will hopefully make more people cognizant of the attitudes they are handing down.

But I also wish I could meet that child, hug her, and tell her that she was never just “that fat girl.” 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shades of Gray: My Cheesy Loveletter to The Monkees

On Monday's drive to gymnastics, I scrolled through my iPhone to find music. And, like a good chunk of the time, I settled on the Monkees.

No, not the Beatles, not the Stones, not U2 or any of those “respectable” classic bands that people listen to over their lifetimes. The Monkees are my lifetime band.

AP file photo

I’m not sure what drew me to the Monkees cassette. I was a kid, I’m guessing around 8 or 9 years old. We were at what we referred to as “the company store” which was the employee store at 3M, where my dad held a summer job as an overnight security guard. I looked the tapes over and something intrigued me about the cover, or maybe it was the name. I bought it and listened to it constantly.

This was right before the big 1980s Monkees explosion. Does anyone else remember this? The Monkees were on MTV and Nickelodeon all the time. Their music was on the radio. It fed the fire.

My sister Amy, her best friend, Rena, and me, as the requisite pesky little sister, became truly obsessed. We had Monkees t-shirts. Dad would take us to record shows on weekends, where we would pick up yet another copy of Headquarters on vinyl because it looked just a tiny bit more perfect than the one we already had. Rena had her grandmother knit Mike hats. Amy had a little cottage industry selling “love beads,” taking out ads in the back of Monkees-related magazines and newsletters. We sang every word to every song, and quoted the show incessantly. And yes, the three of us were at the Minnesota State Fair when 3/4ths of the Monkees played in 1986 ( co-billed with Weird Al Yankovic!).

Fastforward the cassette to 2011. I scored four tickets to see the Monkees at, of all places, the Minnesota Zoo. Nate was also a childhood Monkees fan, and Amy and I had to go, and of course we had to round up Rena, as she was the only other person who could share this excitement with us.

It was a thrilling reunion. It was a gorgeous, sticky summer evening of singing along, dancing, and laughing at how goofy we were all being. As the show went on, though, I started getting melancholy, as every song brought us closer to the end of the show. You know when they start playing the hits that the end is near.

As the show closed, the venue started to empty. We noticed people gathering to one side of the stage. We headed over and lingered there, desperate for another shred of the magic we had just witnessed. Instead, we were shuffled along and people began lining up.

Because the Monkees were coming out to meet us.

Note: I tend to be a rule follower. A goody-goody if you will. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you: If you want to do something against the rules, do not call me. Do not tell me, either, because I will probably tattle on you.

But standing there in line, realizing that we were part of a VIP meet & greet that we had no business being in, I was trying my best to not be a goody goody. Did I feel bad waiting in a line to meet the Monkees when I did not have the right credentials? Yes.

Am I sorry I did it? No.

That’s how we met Peter, Micky and Davy. I’ve had brushes with fame before, but this time it knocked me over. I was sweating and scared and so, so excited. In the pictures, I look manic, but that’s because I had stopped breathing a few minutes earlier.

Rena, Davy and me in July 2011. Photo by Subway Music in the Zoo.

Amy and Davy make a cute couple! Photo by Subway Music in the Zoo.

Yesterday morning I happened to listen to the Monkees yet again. I didn’t even bother skipping “Shades of Grey,” a song, lead vocals by Davy and Peter, that I’ve always found too dramatic and cloying. And a few hours later, I heard Davy had died.

Davy wasn’t my favorite Monkee (that would be Micky), but he held a special place in my heart – how could the cute/short/British one not draw me in? – and I’ve probably watched his hilarious Monkees screen test a hundred times over the years.

(No idea who took this or who owns this.)

I admit to shedding a few tears over someone I met once briefly (I remember I told Davy I felt like Marcia Brady - gee, I’m sure he never heard that one before - and he apologized for not singing “Girl” at the show). But it’s more about a person who had a part in bringing so much joy to my life.

Thanks, Davy, for being part of my lifetime band.