Thoughts on “Fed Up”

wpid-fed-up-trailer-headerI finally watched Fed Up now that it’s on Netflix and here are some of my thoughts.

First of all, it’s about time a documentary took the food industry to task for their immoral lobbying practices. I do agree with the way the film compared food advertising and lobbying to tobacco advertising and lobbying. It’s deplorable. It was depressing to look at Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and see how it buckled under pressure from the food lobbies and reduced itself to an education/awareness/PR campaign instead of a multi-faceted public health initiative working at the individual, community, and policy-making levels. I believe policy reform is crucial; without it, any attempt to improve the state of nutrition in this country will fail.

I was also struck by the way the film gets at the issue of culture and environment – and how much change has happened to our culture and environment in the past 30 years. As a child of the 80’s, it’s interesting to learn more about the historical context of the “obesity epidemic.” I didn’t realize that I was growing up right in the midst of this new(ish) phenomenon. I think it’s human nature to assume that the culture and environment we grow up in just is. We tend to assume that things have always been the way they are.

It blew my mind to imagine a world pre-fitness culture where Americans didn’t all belong to gyms or own workout clothes or think of exercise as positive, healthy, and normal. It’s also interesting to re-examine some of my personal memories (for example, the debate about bringing Coca Cola vending machines into my middle and high school in exchange for a new scoreboard and who-knows-what-else) within the larger context of these sweeping changes that were happening across the country at that moment in time.

It’s strange to realize how different the culture and environment looks compared to what I experienced as a kid in the 80s and 90s. Now we have Crossfit bros and “fitspo” on Instagram and Pinterest. We have artificially flavored water-type beverages for sale as health drinks. We have energy drinks. We have Grub Hub and Foodler. Today we jump on weirdly specific food trends as though they could fix everything, like greek yogurt, acai berry, coconut water, kombucha, and coconut oil. At the same time, we lose our shit over KFC Double Down chicken sandwiches, Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos, and Cronuts. I never would have thought that fast food companies would ever be allowed into school cafeterias, and yet they have been. We must remember that this culture and this environment is something that can be molded and changed according to our values and goals, not something that “just is.”

I really appreciated that the filmmakers made a point to explicitly take the blame for obesity off of fat people. Although we can each try to improve our own health as we see fit, individual behavior change is not the solution to obesity in America. I was glad they touched on the psychology of addiction and the way environmental cues prime our brains to eat in harmful ways. I was glad that they talked about how dieting doesn’t work because it’s nearly impossible to do successfully in a long-term, sustainable way. I was glad they explained how being thin does not necessarily mean someone is healthy.

My only real gripe with this film was the disappointing way it talked about the role of exercise. While I appreciated that they showed a fat person who exercised regularly (fat people can be active too!), I had trouble with the way her failure to lose weight was equated with a failure to be “healthy.”

Some really promising studies have shown that exercise can improve health measures and reduce the burden of disease regardless of whether or not a person loses weight. So while I think it is valuable to point out that “calories in, calories out” is inaccurate, and while it is important to know that exercise does not necessarily result in weight loss, I am disappointed that they did not talk about the ways that exercise can improve a person’s mental and physical health and lower their risk for diseases often associated with obesity. Basically, the film made it sound like exercise was pointless because you’ll still be fat. This is patently false.

You can improve your health and quality of life by exercising, even if you stay fat. You can also improve your health and quality of life by eating better, even if you stay fat. This is the basic premise of the Health At Every Size approach. We need to avoid making people feel like they are doomed to be unhealthy and sick if they cannot lose weight – this can only result in worse outcomes for everyone.

This is all very similar to a recent article “You can’t ‘outrun’ obesity: Study says exercise doesn’t help weight loss.” I quote the brilliant Ragen Chastain:

What’s super messed up is that these doctors are aware that movement reduces the risk of developing heart disease, dementia, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes (the exact reasons that we’re given for losing weight,) and instead of saying “Hey, this seems like more evidence to suggest that maybe we should be more focused on evidence-based health interventions and less focused on manipulating people’s body size,” they are trying to downplay the actual health benefits because the evidence-based health intervention that they’ve found doesn’t make people’s bodies smaller…

The problem here is that we’ve become so obsessed with trying to get everyone into the same height weight ratio that we’ve taken our eye off the ball of giving people options and information that will support their actual health.

Most studies about weight and health don’t take behavior into account, which is weird because those that do take behavior into account find that behaviors, and not body size, are the best predictor of future health.  To be clear, health is complicated, multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, not guaranteed under any circumstances, not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness.

A final thought is that I wish that the filmmakers had found a way to talk about the negative consequences of fat stigma for individuals and society in more of an intentional way. I understand this was probably outside their scope, but it is an important piece of the story.

Overall, I am glad this film was made and I think it could be a useful tool in creating change. We must remember that social change requires a multi-faceted approach. In Public Health we call this the Socio-Ecological Model.

S-E-Model

This model states that we need to make change at each of these different levels – including and especially the policy level. It also teaches that different strategies are warranted at each level. The Fed Up film did a great job talking about the kind of change that needs to happen at the policy level, which I think was the goal of the film. But when it comes to the individual level, it’s important to understand that being overweight does not doom a person to poor health always and forever. If the statistics in Fed Up are correct and approximately 95% of Americans will be overweight or obese by 2035, it is so, so important to give people hope.

As I said before and Fed Up clearly demonstrates, policy reform is absolutely crucial. But another piece of our overall strategy for change must be focused on helping individuals navigate the world they live in. By reducing stigma and focusing on the benefits of exercise and healthful eating for their own sake, we can help people live healthy, happy and productive lives – even if they stay fat.

Connecting the dots: Nice Guys™, MRAs, mass shooters, and aggrieved entitlement

A few things happened in the last couple weeks that stood out to me because they felt connected. About a week ago someone showed me the hot new tumblr, Nice Guys of OKCupid.

Never before has Nice Guy Syndrome been so clearly illustrated.

Not long after that, I got a spike in hits recently from a not-so-feminist-friendly forum and as you might imagine, the comments coming in have been … unkind. One pointed me to a blog called “A Voice for Men.” Up for a good hate read, I clicked. This is what I saw on the site’s masthead.

register-her

Yep. Clear as day, right next to the words “compassion for boys and men” is an ad promising revenge on bitches with the graphic image of a bloody knife. So much for compassion. (This is also an example of their fine work.)

Men’s Rights Activism (MRA) is not a legitimate movement advocating for boys and men, but a vehicle for misogyny, violence, and hate. Even the Good Men Project, which has recently come under fire for their icky rape apologism, agrees that Men’s Rights is bullshit. David Futrelle wrote: “the more I delved into the movement online, the more convinced I became that, for most of those involved in it, the movement isn’t really about the issues at all—rather, it’s an excuse to vent male rage and spew misogyny online. To borrow a phrase from computer programmers: misogyny isn’t a bug in the Men’s Rights Movement; it’s a feature.”

MRA Marmoset gets it

Instead of advocating or protesting or doing anything really to better the lives of boys and men, MRAs just like to bash women and feminists in particular. And when I use the term “bash” I mean it both figuratively (complaining about them on the internet) and literally (advocating for violence against women, often supposedly “in jest”). And handy for them, MRAs’ misogyny is supported and reinforced by dominant cultural beliefs about women being manipulative, back-stabbing sluts.

Like everyone else, I’ve also spent a lot of time this week reading and reflecting on the horrific tragedy at Newtown’s Sandy Hook elementary school. I came across a great Examiner piece by William Hamby on school shootings and white, male privilege that introduced me to the concept of “aggrieved entitlement.”

Aggrieved entitlement is a term used to explain the psychology behind mass shooters, which have all been white males. It is perhaps best defined by Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) in their article, Suicide by mass murder: Masculinity, aggrieved entitlement, and rampage school shootings:

These perpetrators were not just misguided ‘kids’, or ‘youth’ or ‘troubled teens’ – they’re boys. They are a group of boys, deeply aggrieved by a system that they may feel is cruel or demeaning. Feeling aggrieved, wronged by the world – these are typical adolescent feelings, common to many boys and girls. What transforms the aggrieved into mass murders is also a sense of entitlement, a sense of using violence against others, making others hurt as you, yourself, might hurt. Aggrieved entitlement inspires revenge against those who have wronged you; it is the compensation for humiliation. Humiliation is emasculation: humiliate someone and you take away his manhood. For many men, humiliation must be avenged, or you cease to be a man. Aggrieved entitlement is a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine.

Aggrieved entitlement is the thread connecting Nice Guys™, MRAs, and mass shooters. I spent a couple hours yesterday drawing webs, diagrams, and graphs trying to figure this all out. I wanted to see if I could diagram the different expressions and mutations of aggrieved entitlement in relation to variables like aggression, perceived threat of emasculation, introversion, extroversion, isolation, etc. I wasn’t able to come up with a model that made sense to represent this whole mess, but I did come up with a hypothesis.

MRAs and mass shooters probably started out as Nice Guys™. 

Now, I realize I can’t prove this hypothesis. I also don’t want to be misunderstood — I am not saying that all Nice Guys™ are future murderers or bigots. I just believe that they have the potential to be, depending on their circumstances and the influence of certain variables.

For example, an aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ who experiences rejection and the perceived threat of emasculation who is an extrovert may seek connection and community on the internet, and may one day become an MRA. An aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ who experiences rejection and the perceived threat of emasculation who is an introvert, on the other hand, may bottle up his anger and frustration. If you factor in aggression and the desire for revenge, that Nice Guy™ could be positioned to become an Adam Lanza or Seung-Hui Cho.

Of course, an aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ could become a lot of things. He could become an abusive partner, a rapist, the next radio host calling Sandra Fluke a “slut,” or the next right-wing Republican congressman trying to legislate birth control. But just as likely, an aggrieved and entitled Nice Guy™ could grow out of it. He could get educated and learn to understand the problems with this way of thinking and go on to become a perfectly healthy, well-adjusted, non-misogynist man and partner.

So, how do we make that happen? What can we do to help Nice Guys™ climb their way out of that aggrieved entitlement rabbit hole?

In a perfectly timed Cracked article, 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person, David Wong gives some straight talk advice to Nice Guys™:

“I read several dozen stories a year from miserable, lonely guys who insist that women won’t come near them despite the fact that they are just the nicest guys in the world.”

“I’m asking what do you offer? Are you smart? Funny? Interesting? Talented? Ambitious? Creative? OK, now what do you do to demonstrate those attributes to the world? Don’t say that you’re a nice guy — that’s the bare minimum. Pretty girls have guys being nice to them 36 times a day.”

“…don’t complain about how girls fall for jerks; they fall for those jerks because those jerks have other things they can offer. “But I’m a great listener!” Are you? Because you’re willing to sit quietly in exchange for the chance to be in the proximity of a pretty girl (and spend every second imagining how soft her skin must be)? Well guess what, there’s another guy in her life who also knows how to do that, and he can play the guitar.

It’s a good start, but we need to do more than explain that being nice isn’t enough to get girls.

We need to teach boys how to be friends with women. We need to teach them that friendship and kindness are standard elements of being a decent human being, not precious commodities to be rewarded or paid for in sex. We need to teach boys that rejection is a normal part of life, and to stop lashing out at All Women Ever when they feel hurt. We need to teach boys that violence doesn’t make them any more of a “man,” and that revenge is never the answer.

The past few weeks have been full of finger-pointing and solution-hunting. Gun control, mental health, and school security are all important things to talk about in light of what happened at Sandy Hook. However, the issue is larger than Sandy Hook and larger than mass shootings.

This issue at hand is the complex web of sexism, misogyny, and violence that spawns from aggrieved entitlement. In my opinion, the best place to start this deeply important work is consciousness raising with those young, marginalized, and misguided kids who identify themselves to us as “Nice Guys.”

While Nice Guys of OKCupid is a great tool to help explain Nice Guy Syndrome and raise awareness of the problem, it’s also a vehicle to further shame and humiliate kids who already feel marginalized and rejected. It’s not going to help them, and they need help. This is the real challenge. How do we reach out to them? How do we get through to them?

We need to start thinking of solutions; the potential cost of ignoring or further humiliating Nice Guys™ is far too scary to ignore.

Sammy’s awesome dating advice: Get Yours

ImageRecently I was feeling bummed out about dating. My lovely friend C, who first considerately asked if I wanted advice or validation, passed along this gem of a pep talk that she heard from a girl we know named Sammy. And I loved it so much that I want to share it with you, and anyone who has ever felt less than because a person they liked treated them poorly. This was originally written for women, but can easily work for anyone regardless of gender/sexuality.

Get Yours

When someone treats you badly, erase them from your phone. DELETE, DELETE, DELETE.

They just don’t like you and that’s okay. I know it sucks but that’s why you erase them from your phone to symbolize erasing their negative energy from your life.

You are a strong beautiful woman. Your emotions are not controlled by people who aren’t worth your time.

YOU ARE A WARRIOR PRINCESS AND YOU TAKE NO PRISONERS.

After a dark time where the boy I loved most crushed me, I adopted the motto GET YOURS and from that point on every decision I made was about me and getting what I needed and wanted and it revolutionized my dating life.

And I have relayed this tale to you because I love you and want you to get yours.

GET YOURS.

You’re fucking worth it.

Drinking: What’s gender got to do with it?

One of my favorite parts of my new job as a college health educator is teaching my alcohol education class. Every couple weeks I have the privilege of working late to spend my evening in a classroom with 4-12 students who were caught violating the school’s alcohol policy. Yep, this is a mandated class. (Talk about a captive audience.)

But seriously, I love it. The first couple classes were tough since I was still learning the ropes, teaching myself everything I needed to know about alcohol, and hammering out the kinks in the curriculum I inherited. The next month was still somewhat fraught as I tried new things that flopped and continued to tweak and adjust the lesson plan. I learned a lot of things, like for example, that students don’t readily believe statistics that challenge their assumptions and that older students have a much, much bigger attitude about going to a mandated alcohol education class than younger students. (And that 20 year old boys are SO MUCH BIGGER than 18 year old boys. The difference is unreal, people.) 

Anyways.

Tonight I taught a really great, mixed-age group of guys (remember, I teach at a school that’s 85% male) and I finally feel like I’ve got this on lock. I love teaching this class. 

As you might expect, a lot of the class focuses on the effects of alcohol on the body and talking about standard drinks and Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels and the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning, etc., but I begin each class by giving a brief talk about the history of alcohol and the culture of drinking.

I explain that ever since Ancient Egypt, alcohol has been a part of the human experience. I say that alcohol has always been understood to have benefits when used in moderation, and consequences when used in excess. I talk about the nutritional, medicinal, and ritualistic uses of alcohol in the history of human civilization. And then I talk about our modern culture of college binge drinking and how we got here from there.

As a part of this discussion I talk about the impact of alcohol advertising and movies like Animal House (1978) and Old School (2004) and Project X (2011). And here is where it gets good because here is where, even when I’m not particularly trying, we get to talk about drinking and gender.

First I show the class this ad for Coors: 

ImageI ask what messages they think this ad is sending. What is this ad trying to say? I ask them to focus on the “credit card roulette” part, and we end up talking about risk-taking, recklessness, impulse control, and competition and how that relates to masculinity. Then we focus on the “guys night out” part, and I ask them to think about all the different things that are marketed as “guy things,” like sports, man caves, grilling, etc., and ask what percentage of those things involve drinking beer.

“Like, all of them,” a student says.

“Why do you think that is?”

“Well, guys like to drink beer,” another adds.

“Why?”

“It’s fun,” says one student.

“Women like to drink wine and stuff,” adds another.

“They do?”

“Yeah, they prefer wine or like fancy drinks.”

“Why? Is there a something in the female hormones or chromosomes that makes women like wine more than beer?”

“No…”

“Why are advertising companies trying to sell beer as something that’s for guys?”

“To sell more beer.”

“Is there any particular reason why we think that watching sports and drinking beer go together?”

“Well, it’s fun. It’s just part of it.”

“And which came first, the chicken or the advertising?”

Then I show them the following ads for Barcardi.

ImageImage

 

“So, what message are these ads trying to tell us about drinking?”

“That it turns you into someone else.”

“That it makes you sexy.”

“It gets you laid.”

“Who is the audience for these ads?” (There is debate about the first ad and whether it’s targeted at men or women.)

“Do women wear a lot of clothing in alcohol ads?”

“No..”

“In movies like Old School and Project X, when do you see female characters on screen?”

Etc., and so on.

Being an old-fashioned tech school that’s 85% men, my campus is average or below average when it comes to gender awareness. It might also be below average in awareness regarding media literacy and critical analysis. So these conversations are pretty huge, and even though they barely scratch the surface of the complexities of what there is to understand about gender, they are an important, eye-opening, first step.

As a follow-up to the alcohol class, I assign each student a reflection paper. I ask them to  write about a few things they learned that they found particularly interesting or surprising. A lot of them mention tidbits from our discussion of gender in drinking culture, and that just warms the shit of my little, feminist heart.

There have been moments in my new job where I felt disappointed that certain gender-related topics were outside the scope of my position. I am a health educator not a gender educator after all. Still, I am learning and evolving and infusing gender into other discussions in ways that are relevant and meaningful. I’m also upping the ante by serving on the Diversity Committee and helping plan programming around gender and other great things like race and religion.

My tiny revolution is brewing, and hopefully soon it’ll grow to a simmer. How many licks does it take to turn a bunch of conservative engineers into feminists? I’m not sure, but I’m certainly up for the challenge.

 

 

 

What the?

Yes, you may have noticed Talkin’ Reckless looks a little different. People who have followed me for a while should be familiar with my “design-restlessness.” In other words, I like to change things up from time to time. And yes, there are more changes still to come.  Thanks for hangin’ in there while I fiddle around.

New Obesity Prevention Campaign Rife with Fat-Shaming

This piece was up on Sociological Images yesterday!

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) sponsored two new billboards in Albany, NY, warning residents that cheese makes you fat in what is possibly most irresponsible way ever. The first features an obese man’s disembodied torso and the words, “Your abs on cheese.” The second features an obese woman’s butt and thighs and the words, “Your thighs on cheese.” The images make a very clear statement: fat people are disgusting. Read more.

What do you do with a problem like Nazi internet trolls?

Last week, Talkin’ Reckless was the subject of a blog post on a Neo-Nazi website. Ever since then, I’ve been getting a lot of shockingly graphic, anti-semitic, hatemail. I’m talking “Elders of Zion”-type shit. To be honest, I was taken aback. I can’t say I’ve ever had that kind of Nazi-speak directed at me, personally, before. I’ve grown up not completely sheltered from anti-semitism, but luckily it was rare. Much more common was just ignorance, like the kind revealed in the “Shit Christians Say to Jews” video. But there’s a big difference between ignorant comments and hateful comments. And boy howdy, was I getting some hate.

Now, I know as much as the next person how important it is not to feed the trolls. And these Nazi commenters are trolls of the worst order — the angry, threatening kind. I tried to ignore the whole thing. But everyday, new anti-semitic threats and slurs kept showing up in my inbox.

Two of my grandparents are Holocaust survivors. They lived in the Lodz ghetto in Poland and were both sent to Auschwitz, although they didn’t meet each other until after the war. I always felt that they, and my dad (their son), were paranoid about anti-semitism. I mean, the paranoia was pretty damn rational for them, but it never felt like a real threat to me. Then again, I had never received emails from people saying they’d like to put me in an oven before.

I’ve taken a few days to think about it — whether I should respond, and if so, what I should say. I figured out what I wanted to say long before I decided whether I should say anything at all. I made a video. And then I agonized about whether or not to share it.

“You’re just going to bait them and get worse hatemail,” said a friend. “Why are you taunting them?” It’s true. I probably will get more hatemail. But is this just feeding the trolls, or is this a chance to say something important? To call attention to the reality that old-school anti-semitism still lives (even if it is in a small and pathetic sort of way).

In the end I thought about my grandparents. How would they feel if they knew their granddaughter was getting this sort of hatemail? They loved to say things like “I didn’t survive the Holocaust so you could drop out of high school and become a janitor.” Or maybe it was my dad who loved to say that… (“Your grandparents didn’t survive the Holocaust so you could get a tattoo!)

Well here’s what I have to say: My grandparents didn’t survive the Holocaust so that I should stand silently and be bullied by racist idiots.

It may not be the most mature way to handle internet trolls, but at least I live in a world where I’m free to express myself, free to be Jewish, and free to delete emails without reading them.

So, without further ado, this is what I have to say:

Why I’m the angry girl who yells at Drunk Creepers™

Saturday night I went out with my cousin and her friends, whom I like very much, to celebrate her birthday. We went to a big, loud, Boston bar — one of those super popular spots that’s big enough to house both sports and dancing. We were up close to the cover band (playing everything from Greenday to Eminem to Foster the People) and I couldn’t help but notice the Drunk Creeper™ who kept touching women without their consent.

You know the type I’m talking about. The Drunk Creeper™ is a dude who is very drunk and very handsy. His patented move is to come up behind a girl and slide his arm around her waist, so that he can — before she even knows what’s happening — touch her hips and whisper in her ear in that oh-so-intimate of sexual positions. I find it hard to ignore Drunk Creepers™; they set off my internal alarm bells, even from across a dark bar. After watching a Drunk Creeper™ approach-and-grope seven or more women in quick succession, you know it’s only a matter of time before he stumbles onto you.

There’s a standard way to deal with a Drunk Creeper™ that fits with the learned, ladylike rule to always be pleasing, even in refusal. When a Drunk Creeper™ slimes his way onto your body, you start by giving the forced smile/eye roll combo that lets your friends know you are fully aware that this dude is a skeeze, but still appears pleasing to his drunkenly impaired senses. Then you sortof pretend to listen to his inebriated acknowledgment of your hotness and politely decline his advances, slowly disengaging yourself from his grip and moving to a new spot. Then, afterwards, you discuss what a creeper he was with your friends. It’s girl tested, girl approved.

Youtube celeb Jenna Mourey, aka Jenna Marbles, has a different approach: the face.

If that doesn’t work, she has more goofy techniques like acting like a velociraptor, singing, or planking until the guy leaves you alone. These are hilarious in theory, and they may even work in practice, but they still bother me. Basically, the Jenna Marbles’ techniques give you a humorous way to end an interaction without having to be the angry bitch girl who raised her voice and caused a scene on the dance floor. Because, according to the rules of being a lady, you must never, ever, be the angry bitch girl.

Saturday night, I was an angry bitch girl.

The Drunk Creeper™ was dancing in front of me and dropped his jacket on my feet. I kicked it back towards him, which unfortunately caught his attention. He spun around and before he even had time to look at me, grabbed my face with both hands and started to come in for a drunken, slobbery kiss. I reacted with a kung fu parry (all girls should take martial arts) and yelled “Don’t fucking touch me!” He backed off, but everyone around me gave me startled looks.

A little while later, I noticed him dancing behind a friend of mine. I leaned in to tell her to watch out for him because he was a Drunk Creeper™. Just as I finished warning her, he came up behind her and slid his arm across her waist and stuck his face in the crook of her neck. Before she had a chance to react, I grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him off her. I screamed at him to get the fuck out of here and pointed forcefully with my finger. He looked terrified. But then again, so did everyone in a five-foot radius.

It’s never cool to be the angry girl, which is why Jenna Marbles came up with a creative way to take control without having to get angry. But sometimes I think it’s important to be the angry girl. Like, for example, when you’re really angry at a Drunk Creeper™ who is treating women’s bodies like his own property, touching without asking, and who will undoubtedly wake up the next morning with a hangover, but absolutely no qualms about his sexist, predatory behavior. Even though I admire the humor of the approach, I think it’s demeaning to use the “face” to deal with Drunk Creepers™. Why must we be so cautious about expressing genuine anger or disgust in situations like this when it’s so clearly warranted?

Maybe I’m just the angry feminist who can’t laugh it off as “boys will be boys.” But maybe, just maybe, I’m acting the way a person should act when their personal space and potential safety is violated by a drunk asshole.

The predatory behavior of Drunk Creepers™ doesn’t deserve a free pass, and I refuse to be ashamed of being the angry bitch who won’t give it to them.