Posted by: Brie | February 27, 2012

All Sext Up – A Tribute to National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

‘All Sext Up’

A Tribute to National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

It’s so clear that you have to cherish everyone.  I think that’s what I get from these older black women, that every soul is to be cherished, that every flower Is to bloom.

– Alice Walker

With National Eating Disorders Awareness Week upon us lending a needed voice to a pressing public health issue, I am called to play a role in the collective conversation.  (I hereby promise not to belabor my fascination with pneumatic breasts… well, sort of.)

This week I listened to a health segment on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called All Sext Up which spoke to the porn-informed culture of middle school social relationships.  I feel angry that young minds are being taken hostage by this messaging before their brains have even fully formed.  I am outraged that self-objectification has become a rite of passage for girls whose bodies have scarcely grazed womanhood and that the Internet has become a slut-shaming smorgasbord against girls who internalize the hotbed of messaging before they have the maturity to moderate their understanding of it.  (Note to my Canadian readers: yes, if you are sixteen, graduating high school and live in southern California, plastic breasts are the gift that keeps on giving.)

Stunned (not to be mistaken for stunning) was the word of the day when on this same afternoon I was slammed with a stream of YouTube Am I Pretty videos gushed out by hundreds of 11-13 year-old girls asking the world to validate their worth.  Three million hits and 92,000 comments later, the world has responded.  What has happened when the most important thing in the lives of girls kissing the threshold of womanhood (who might also have the tenacity to kiss patriarchy’s butt given the toolkit) has turned into whether they measure up to a socioeconomically-reinforced yardstick of perfection?  How has looking like lollipops, dressing like candy and flinging fireworks from our breasts (no longer merely pneumatic but also now metallic) come to represent the deep and complex power of femininity?  Does this satisfy the inner-fame-junkie that Reality TV has seemingly successfully sparked in girls everywhere?

As the afternoon wore on I began feeling ragged, and with good reason.  I had been visually and audibly traversing terrifying girl territory, assaulted by the manufacturers of girl culture translating womanhood into dieting, bingeing, purging, cutting, and undergoing cutting (as in pneumatic breasts; but I digress).  Seriously, marketers even follow children into the bathroom to better understand how to engender cradle-to-grave brand loyalty.  Spanx has become a verb since my favorite actress of the year Octavia Spencer – whose film heroically probes 1950s Mississippi life for African-American women – has declared she will arrive at the Academy Awards triple-spanxed.  Among the most talented women in film, she wins my personal Oscar for feistiness alone.  Her announced gift to herself will be, drum roll please… a breast lift.  I’ll resist additional commentary after her win for Best Supporting Actress.

The statistics are staggering.  Between 1999 and 2005, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found a 119% increase in eating disorder hospitalization for children younger than twelve.  Anorexia is the biggest killer of teen girls in America (Wolf, 2002).  Meanwhile women over 40 are the fastest growing demographic of this pandemic, topping the chart with a 41% increase in eating disorders since 2001 (NBC News, 2011).  Exercise was my form of purging during my own bout of anorexia.  So why am I now feeling an overwhelming urge to stick my fingers down my throat?

*Now*, you might be thinking, was when I should extract myself from the tentacles of The Huffington Post… but that was not to be.  How I landed on the blog about Tumblr’s Thinspiration pages I do not know, but suddenly pro-anorexia websites have met their match as regular bloggers now offer frequent diatribes touting toxic-starvation advice.  I wish for a moment that I could step into whole-body sunglasses to diffuse the glare, but that would not this madness stop.  Musing for a moment: maybe they’re making protective body gear with saline now instead of silicone to render it a more viable option.  I feel pissed, depressed and frustrated.  I feel emotions that have never before been named, infoktusperated figuring prominently (no that does not come from porn Anime which is also sexist but merely my invention for the moment).

At 3 pm Friday I shut my MacBook Air away from a morally depraved online world and head for the canyon lining the neighborhood behind my house.  This savage media-jungle-induced saturation leaves my neurochemistry flooded.  70% of the body’s sensory receptors are in the visual field and mine have been besieged.  The lyrics Oooh baby, baby it’s a wild world come to mind.  If I as a graduate of women’s studies now in my thirties – with years of teaching cutting-edge media literacy to gymnasiums full of young women under my bra – can hardly bare the onslaught, what must it be like for a 12-year-old girl in burgeoning womanhood?

I seek answers in a canyon… a canyon whose curves reflect the soft shapes that women come in, a canyon whose verdant vines, swelling mounds, swaying calla lilies and towering Monterey pines reflect the ever-giving life force of Mother Gaia.  A canyon holds forth in her true and natural expression.  Pescadero Canyon does not question whether her form looks the same as Pfeiffer Canyon or Bixby Canyon.  She is too busy reveling in the irrepressible life bursting forth from her bosom.

I find myself wondering if the earth is the only role model I have left.  But no.  Gloria isn’t dead yet.  Naomi was a mere 28 when she birthed her audacious book The Beauty Myth.  And the female spiritual teachers I have known and loved could quell any mental fires I promulgate with a wave of their magic Zen stick.  It took a village to inoculate me against harmful media messaging, but when they did a new legacy was spawned.

When I arrive home I make myself a fire.  The wood gets so hot it sings.  My tipi temple ablaze, I kick back with my pen watching the flames burn a hole in a sheet of cardboard box until one side nearly falls away.  Dangling, it flaps toward the hole over and over again like the hand of a hungry ghost desperate to feed itself, starving dead.  Turning then to ashes, it alights, floating vapidly up and away.  My fire is a metaphor for this consumer culture.  In order to burn it must be fed.  But eventually we all turn to ash in corpse pose, so why all the fuss around pneumatic breasts?  Really ladies?

I can think of a thousand ways I would like to spend my days and none of them involve complex beauty rituals, obsessive dieting, denigrating other women, undergoing the knife, aspiring to look – or act­ – like a porn star, or living a lie.

The women I have spoken to over the last year have stoked the fire to prevent eating disorders and their ensuing suffering for which I have long been a keeper.  Their bright eyes, their girl-driven school-wide grrl days, their walls of art work and inspirational quotes have inspired me to believe that charting a new course is possible, that mentoring is not a lost art, and that modeling what we want to see more of is a way out of the complex labyrinth that’s become of girl culture.  They have restored my faith in the power of sisterhood, that young women can reach beyond their pierced belly buttons to make a difference for others across the world, and that what we choose to see, do, believe, and be in every moment has more impact on our lives than the width of our thighs and the bra cup we wear (yes even if it’s cupping a pneumatic breast).  I have more faith than ever before because I believe women are tired of having femininity prescribed for them, because there is an upwelling toward a stand that we take every time we choose life.

I chose life this week.  When in Berkeley I accompanied my friend Tamara to her favorite Brazilian dance class in Silvestre Technique.  Sylvester is a sacred form of dance that marries martial arts, modern dance and yoga.  While it is an understatement to say that I was out of my league amongst a class of dancers with many who had lived and studied this rare dance form in Brazil for years, I was living out loud.

The class opened with the teacher awakening the elements within us.  Your feet and legs contain the element of earth.  We ground and feel the earthen energy.  Our bellies contain the force of water – fluid, graceful, ever-changing.  In our upper bodies we find air, the element of open space pervading our forms.  And in the head, we know the quickening of fire – hot, electric, passionate.  And so it was that we found our dance, calling forth all things elemental within us.

I can attest that this rendering of the female form was among the most empowering cosmologies I as a woman have known.  I accessed a power in my body that was at once fluid and fierce, rooted in strength and of the wind.  It burned down self-doubt, challenged my core, and left me supple as a willow in spring.

Despite my reticence, I tried something new and I did it with a girlfriend who, freshly home from studying this form of dance, models what it is to lead the life you want to live.  This is the real happily ever after.  Unlike beauty, it knows no conditions nor bounds.  Ringing out with self love, sensuality and spontaneity, it put my right to joy back where it belongs – on the inside.  To any readers out there trying to find their way back to their bodies, I have five words:  Do try this at home.  And out in the world.  Thinspiration blogs ain’t got nothin’ on Lovetheskinyoureinspiration.  Insisting on reclaiming our experience of our bodies from the inside out is an antidote to the sociocultural deluge.  It is a giant permission slip for authentic living.  It is what it is to redefine crazy, sexy, cool.  And it is the only true beauty we can ever know.  Living beauty.  Sensory beauty.  Surrendered beauty.

My fire has burned to ashes now and I will attempt to wind down because this is, after all, a blog and not a book.  But hey, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week merits a novel in which we all become the spirited incorrigible rock stars of our own lives, throwing down the gauntlet to the media circus with our savvy tricks and ferocious feminine perspicacity.  As the final flames give their last hoorah, Tamara’s words come back to me.  Lead the life you want to live.  Whether you inexorably went for the fake breasts or not, and yes, contrary to my rant, I do understand, love and accept you either way – I ask you to consider a more important question, What life will you lead?



  1. Wow!!! loved evry moment reading this.

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