Never Say Diet

In 2011, I served as iVillage Health‘s Body Image Expert and author of their body image blog, Never Say Diet. Oh, Beef Fat Lady, A**holes, and Kelly Osbourne… what a weird and wacky year it was. I thought ten months in beauty school taught me a lot about how women relate to beauty — but ten months of blogging about diet scams, obesity research, and celebrity silliness was an education in its own right.

[Never Say Diet] Why Talking About Good Sex Boosts Your Body Image

Here we are, mere hours from a good, old-fashioned family holiday… so why not spice things up with a discussion of the role sex education can play in shaping teenagers’ fragile body image? That’s exactly what I’m doing over on Never Say Diet today.

It’s inspired by the New York Times Magazine cover story, Teaching Good Sex, where a private school teacher (teaching sex ed as an elective to seniors) gets to say crazy sh*t like “I don’t think it’s necessarily unhealthy to have sex at age 17,” and show students videos about female ejaculation (because we’ve misguidedly decided “it’s O.K. that boys ejaculate, that’s totally normalized [...] but girls, gross! Girls will think they’re peeing themselves, and it’s really shameful.”).

Obviously, you want to go straight back to high school and enroll in a class like that… although the article is pretty clear on the sad fact that there is no other class like that in the entire country. Which is a shame, not only because most American teenagers are lacking crucial information about sex (and getting it from porn or Cosmo instead) but also because most American teenagers are struggling to feel normal in their bodies in a whole variety of ways — and sex education is a prime opportunity for sage adults to normalize all of those things, and hey, while we’re at it, maybe get kids thinking about a broader definition of beauty. Than, you know, exclusively the kind of beauty they see in porn.

More on all of that over on Never Say Diet. Click, read, thank me for your Turkey Day ice breaker anecdotes later!

[Never Say Diet] Living Outside the Beauty Myth

Today in Never Say Diet, I’m talking about the findings in The Allure New American Beauty Survey: When asked about their attractiveness, African-American women were three times as likely as Caucasian women to rate themselves as “hot.”

I don’t think the reason for this — if, indeed, we can prove it’s true beyond the perhaps not quite nationally representative sample of Allure Magazine poll takers — is as simple as the whole bootylicious thing, where women of color get to celebrate their curves in ways that white women don’t. Whether they’re demanding you be fat, thin, or somewhere in between, beauty standards are problematic because they demand that you be something and it’s impossible for everyone to be that one thing, all the time. So Beyoncé only helps us so much.

I think this stat speaks more to what happens when women are forced outside the traditional beauty narrative, which can happen for a million reasons… though race and size are probably the top two. When you live outside the beauty myth, maybe it’s easier to stop judging yourself by the beauty myth. Because it’s not like you have a ton of other options.

So I’m curious to know: Is there any aspect of your appearance that falls outside the Beauty Myth? And if so, have you gotten to a place where you find this at all liberating — because when the rules don’t apply, you get to make up your own?

Obviously, as I shared last week, the part of me that falls outside our culture’s definition of beautiful would be my midsection — and judging from the awesome comments (keep ‘em coming!), I’m not alone in this. I wish I could say that I’ve found this failure to make the beauty grade 100% liberating, but alas. Most of the time, I just wish I had a damn waist. It would make more sense with the rest of my body and I’d have a hell of an easier time buying pants.

So this is not to say that I think it’s easy for the black women in the Allure poll — that’s some hard-won body confidence they’ve got. And I am finding it inspiring. Because it suggests that somehow, somewhere along the way, women are starting to broaden our definition of beauty and move away from restrictive standards. Starting with ourselves.

PS. No photo again today because I remain stymied by CaptureMe. Sorry! My little Macbook Air and I have been on a journey of tech support adventures as of late. (One of the joys of self-employment.)


[Never Say Diet] The Case of the Mistaken Pregnancy

Nope. Simmer down, this isn’t any kind of an announcement. Today’s Never Say Diet is all about what to do when someone assumes you’re pregnant but you’re totally not — plus why that even bothers us so much in the first place.

As you can probably guess, this post is inspired by a true story because being mistaken-as-pregnant Keeps. Happening. To. Me.

As previously discussed, I do not have a waist. I also have a thing for empire waist dresses and flowy cardigans. And that is my journey — though I think this mini-trend in my life says just as much about how much we’ve lost the plot on women and the shape of their stomachs, as I explain over on NSD. 

What I didn’t have space to get into over there is how I’ve actually handled these encounters.

In a word: Awkwardly.

So very awkwardly.

I usually laugh and try very hard not to seem offended — because I want to get the message across that I’m comfortable with my body and anyway, I don’t think “looking pregnant” is the crime against humanity/fashion faux pas that we make it out to be.

But at the same time, I am offended. There’s that initial moment — before all the body positivity training kicks in — where the tiny part of my brain that still unequivocally buys into the Beauty Myth thinks, “good f*ck, I’m fat.”  I’m not proud of this, but it happens and I want to be honest with you guys.

Then I remember all the stuff about being comfortable with my body, blah, blah, and we’re good again. Me and my body, that is. I’m still offended by the person calling me pregnant, not because it’s so terrible to look pregnant but because it’s so terrible for total strangers to think they can say this stuff to women they’ve known all of twelve seconds. My body is not available as your conversational ice breaker.

Also, and this is just a fact: There is no way anyone has ever mistaken me for more than three or four months pregnant. I’m just not that big! And we all know that the first trimester falls under the Pregnancy Cone of Silence where you only tell family members and such. So then I try to combine my “Whatevs, I love my body!” laugh-and-shrug with a stern “I don’t even have to disclose this fake pregnancy to my employer yet, why would I tell you?” eyebrow raise to let them know they’re being horribly inappropriate and I’m not letting them off the hook that easily.

And that’s a weird set of reactions to combine in the space of a few seconds, and ergo, awkward.

I went through that whole dance again last week with a nurse in my dermatologist’s office who mistook my flowy cardigan as an invitation to discuss the status of my uterus (at a skin cancer screening? Not relevant!). That’s when I decided that this is what it is, it’s going to keep happening, and I really need to sort out some better responses for myself. Which I have now done, and you can check them out over on Never Say Diet.

And please, if you have a story about being mistaken for pregnant, do share. My NSD editor had it happen to her at a wedding — the groom’s father swooped over to grab a glass of champagne out of her hand with a lecture about expecting mothers and booze! Which is pretty great. One of my best friends had a bus driver shout “any day now, right?” when she ran on wearing a big coat. (She explained that unless he saw a baby crowning, he should stop assuming things about the bodies of the women boarding his bus.) And so, we can agree this is one of those universally awkward moments that women aren’t talking enough about. I’d love to know how you felt about it and how you handled it — let’s add to my list of useful responses so I’m never stuck doing the awkward laugh + shrug + eyebrow raise thing again…

PS. No picture today because my CaptureMe  software has decided to start only taking really, really dark pictures of everything it captures. If any tech gurus know the fix (or a better screen-grabbing app to use!) I’m all ears!

[Never Say Diet] Can the Rockettes Really Be Reinvented?

iVillage Never Say Diet Rockettes Virginia Sole-Smith

Not to sound like an awful curmudgeon, but I’m not convinced we can remake the Rockettes as karate-kicking post-feminist role models, no matter how many LED special effects the new show employs. The show’s 78 year history just seems too steeped in a sexist Stepford beauty ideal that demands women work incredibly hard (five shows per day, six days per week hard) to look exactly like everybody else. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a joiner, but I have a hard time finding the empowerment in any activity that strips away personal identity to this degree. (This might be why I ran into so much trouble over military dress codes, too.)

So I guess I’m glad that somebody is trying to shake things up, if skeptical about whether there’s really any room for improvement. If anyone goes this year, stop by with a comment to let us know your take on the end result? Considering how many thousands of little girls get dressed up in red velvet and Mary Janes to go see the Rockettes each year I’d love to stand corrected on this one. It would be glorious if the lines of dancing ladies could teach them something positive about sisterhood and strong women — instead of reinforcing, once again, that they are how they look. After all, they’re getting plenty of that message everywhere else, especially this time of year when every time a bell rings, a Victoria’s Secret angel gets her wings — and shares the salacious details of the insane diet regimen it took to win them.

More over here, on Never Say Diet.


[Never Say Diet] Everybody, Please, Stop Tweeting Your Diets

iVillage Never Say Diet Twitter Diets Virginia Sole-SmithWhoops! This went up on iVillage last week, but I forgot to tell you about it.

So here’s the word: If you’re using Facebook or Twitter to vent about your Master Cleanse, celebrate your new life without cheese, or bemoan your hardcore Pilates schedule… please stop. Just stop it right now. Your friends and followers are not interested in your diet.

And this goes double if you are an elected member of the federal government (ahemSenatorClaireMcCaskill!). In this age of chronic over-sharing, I think it’s time to draw a line in the sand and say no more with the diet kvetching and body snarking on social media. I’m not sure if it’s an offshoot of all those blogs where people photograph everything they eat (do not tell me this is because you’re a budding food stylist, you are just being obsessive!) or simply because social media has made public what used to be just bitching to your cubicle mate over Lean Cuisines. But either way, I am so over it. We’re already inundated with messages about why we should lose weight, eat less, and workout more every hour of every day from media, advertising and all of the people we have to deal with in-person. We don’t need it to come in this form as well.

Anybody else getting fed up with this trend? Can we agree it has jumped the shark when U.S. Senators are twittering about plans to lose 50 pounds and divorce pasta?

Gah! So. Embarrassed. For. Her.


[Never Say Diet] Obesity, Custody Battles and the Good Divorce

iVillage Never Say Diet Obesity Custody Battles

Only everything, if you ask a certain class of divorce lawyers. Which the Wall Street Journal did. I’m finding the whole thing infuriating over on Never Say Diet today, and it’s not just because it’s offensive to fat people — and thus, to everyone with a body. To be honest, I’ve been riled up ever since I read Susan Gregory Thomas’s piece in the Sunday New York Times about whether “The Good Divorce” is really all that good for kids. She ultimately concludes that it can be, but along the way she cites research finding “children of divorce score worse in math and social skills, and suffer from lower self-esteem than those from non-divorce households, period.” And if you check out the comments over on Peggy Orenstein’s Motherlode post on the story, it’s clear that plenty of readers are skeptical of the concept as well.

As it just so happens, I come from a Good Divorce — my parents share holidays and vacations, welcomed each other’s new spouses and children to the family, and never, ever fought in front of me or undermined each other’s authority. So confidential to those researchers: I scored 700 on my math SATs. And my social skills and self-esteem are generally through the goddamn roof.

There are exactly three things about me that will tell you I come from a “broken home:” I’m really organized, after 18 years of joint custody. (It’s great to live with both your parents. It is not great to forget half your science homework at the other parent’s house.) I over-worry about where my husband and I will spend the holidays now because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

And I will become irate quite quickly when you try to tell me how much divorce messes with kids’ heads.

I’m not saying that doesn’t happen. For every Good Divorce, there are thousands of terrible, heartbreaking divorces where parents won’t or can’t put their differences aside for the collective family good. But what really messed with my head as a kid wasn’t anything my parents did. (I mean: They made me organized. And considerate of other people’s feelings. Quel horreur!) It was the cultural perception of my family as fractured and dysfunctional. Teachers, friends’ parents, and unsolicited strangers often shook their heads and tsked that my cruel parents made me spend half the week at each of their homes so they could play equally important roles in my life. Everybody assumed I must hate my step-parents or new half-siblings (nope, they’re cool). One school secretary told me it was so sad that I had a hyphenated last name, “because it shows you’re secretly hoping your parents will get back together.” I had a lot of feelings about her.

Fortunately, since my family is pretty kick-*ss, these experiences didn’t leave many lasting scars. I’ve long assumed all that early cultural confusion was a sign of how trailblazing my parents were, since they more or less invented the Good Divorce back in the early 1980s. After all, as Thomas notes in her article, 30 years ago, only three states upheld joint custody arrangements at all — now they all do. I didn’t even know what to call it back then — I’d just have to say, “my parents are divorced — but no, really, they like each other.” We’ve made so much progress, right?

But when I read about trumped up custody battle tactics like “you’re too fat to be a mom,” and shoddy, stereotype-perpetuating research like “divorced kids suck at math,” I realize that the Good Divorce is still depressingly rare. And this traps families in unhappy marriages because there’s a default assumption that anyone getting divorced is screwing up. When in fact, getting divorced is very often an act of great courage — and of love.

[Never Say Diet] The Freshman Fifteen and Other Lies Fed to Our Generation

iVillage Never Say Diet Virginia Sole-Smith Freshman FifteenToday on Never Say Diet, I’m talking about a new study which explodes the myth of the Freshman Fifteen by figuring out that college freshman… don’t really gain fifteen pounds.

I know. Your mind is blown.

We’ve created a lot of hype and expectation around the idea that leaving home equals piling on pounds — just like we assume everyone gets fat over the holidays or right after they get married or when they have a baby. Which is not to say people don’t gain a little weight during these times. As it happens, I gained the Freshman Twenty (ohhh triple-decker PB&J every day in NYU’s Hayden Dining Hall, you were delicious…), so I know what of I speak.

But why do we demonize these expected weight gains as epic failures of willpower that need to be held at bay at any cost?  Perhaps there are just stages in your life when weight creeps up a bit — and that’s not necessarily a sign of anything more apocalyptic or sinful than a newfound preference for triple-decker PB&J, or a busy work schedule, or whatever.

Because — not to get all conspiracy theorist on you — who really benefits from Freshman Fifteen Phobia, whether it results in an actual weight gain or unnecessarily restrictive behavior to stave it off? Our good friends in the $60 billion diet industry, of course.

Read more over on Never Say Diet. 


[Never Say Diet] Manicures in the Military?

iVillage Army Dress Code Gender Virginia Sole-SmithBefore we get too in a lather over this one, I should make it very clear that all of the news/blog coverage on whether French manicures and ponytails belong in the Armyhas spun out over a Facebook  discussion led by Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler. They haven’t actually banned anything yet. It’s just a lot of talk.

But on the other hand, it is a lot of talk, from private soldiers and officers of all ranks. And some of it reveals some pretty disturbing thinking about the role of gender in the military, and what you have to do to come across as a “powerful woman” (Hint: Step one seems to be “don’t look like one.”)

And this talk is happening today in enlightened, post-Don’t Ask Don’t Tell 2011. When women are expected to go into combat any day now. (Or at least, they will just as soon as the Pentagon can be asked to file the report saying so — it missed the April 15 deadline and asked for an extension.)

So let’s go ahead and get lathered, shall we?

Here’s my take on the issue, over on iVillage. What’s yours?

[Never Say Diet] Magazines Are Going to Photoshop, So At Least They Suck At It

iVillage Never Say Diet Photoshop Fails Virginia Sole-Smith

That’s the kind of generous find-the-silver-lining mood I’m in this week as I contemplate poor armless Kristen Stewart and Barbie-legged Beyonce up there. I mean, the more you know, right?

When images look this fake, you can’t interpret them as a reflection on yourself. Well you can. (Little kids do it with Disney princesses all the time.) But you’re a grown up (I presume), so you’re old enough to know better. Now the trick is how to remember this when you’re looking at the not-so-obviously-altered-but-still-totally-fake images that wallpaper the rest of our media-saturated world…Any ideas?

Warning labels or disclaimers seriously aren’t the worst idea I’ve heard.

Check out the full story over here on Never Say Diet.


[Never Say Diet] Kelly Osbourne Needs A Fat Talk Intervention

iVIllage Never Say Diet Virginia Sole-Smith Kelly Osbourne Christina Aguilera

Last year, during Fat Talk Free Week, I had to give a stern talking-to to diet guru and “mental toughness expert” Steve Siebold for the hate-filled press release he sent around saying we protest Fat Talk Free Week and instead, constantly find more ways to tell fat people how fat and lazy they are. Nice guy, that Steve.

This year, it’s Deputy Kelly Osbourne (she of E! Fashion Cops) who seems to have missed the memo and is instead Fat Talking It Up, body snarking on Christina Aguilera. I’m not too worried, because you know Christina. Words can’t keep her down.

But seriously, people? One. Week.

It should be all year, but one week is all we’re shooting for right now. It shouldn’t be this hard.

PS. Happy Love Your Body Day! My goodness, you’re pretty.