Food & Drink

Brain fat and feminism


It was difficult to imagine this issue of the Metro Times, a food issue without a dieting story, yet it was equally hard to think of a unique approach.

Still, I knew I had something to say.

I wanted to tell the millions of women who spend gobs of time and money on diets why they should stop. Why they should just accept their bodies, as I have learned to accept mine -- or so I thought.

Then I called Sheila McSherry, managing editor of Her Health Online, a Los Angeles-based Webzine where women discuss everything from nutrition to the realities of living in a society obsessed with appearance and weight.

"I think the dialogue has helped them see just how socially constructed body images are," McSherry tells me. We lamented that while feminism has allowed women to make strides in the workforce, it hasn't yet delivered us from the pages of Vogue.

"Be all that you can be and still be what they want you to be -- pretty and thin," McSherry says, crystallizing the dilemma. "I can feel very accomplished in my writing and in my art. But I also think, 'Do I look good?' "

I wanted to deny identifying with her. But her comment reminds me of an episode a few days earlier, when I tried on a suit from my closet and discovered it no longer fit.

Annoyed and running late, I went back to my old standby -- a slimming black skirt with an elastic waistband -- but it didn't stop the knee-jerk reaction that followed.

There I stood, in front of the mirror in that suit, wondering how I got so fat, thinking maybe it's easier to be a feminist when you generally consider yourself thin.

I admit to McSherry that I care about my appearance, but "not like I used to." McSherry quickly adds that she isn't "as obsessive as some people I know."

We laughed at the irony.

I remember becoming weight-conscious at about age 13. Then I couldn't define patriarchy, and was still oblivious to marketing ploys, I began following Seventeen magazine's hair, makeup and fashion advice. My grades fell, as surely as did the numbers on the bathroom scale.

My life in those years wasn't atypical. Lots of preteen girls I knew skipped meals. Laden with makeup and hair spray, they were less concerned about school than what television told them was their biggest asset: Their bodies. Graduating from Seventeen to Cosmopolitan just emphasized the message: Use your body, not your mind.

It takes time and effort to shed that kind of social conditioning. Over the past decade or so, through life experiences, growing self-awareness, and more knowledge of feminism, I've learned to value my mind the most. I eat nutritious foods and don't diet. I no longer own a bathroom scale.

Still, some of those earlier impressions must have stuck like peanut butter to the roof of my psyche.

Call it brain fat.

Judging from conversations with women such as McSherry, I'm not alone in working out these ideological conflicts.

Hopefully, women and girls will continue this dialogue. One way is to plug into McSherry's Web site, at

As for the suit, I think I'll give it to the Salvation Army.

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