Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Changing Perceptions

A few weeks back, I divulged that we had just finished reading Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary. Even though this was Pink Panther's book, I couldn't resist. While perusing his book, I saw a name I remembered, a favorite name from my childhood reading - Ellen Tebbits. I remembered choosing this book from one of those Scholastic Book Order Forms when I was in school. I was lured by her secret. I, too, wanted to be privy to that information.

I loved Ellen Tebbits then and thought Princess would like it, too. I had a difficult time finding the book locally. In fact, I had to order it so when I ordered I got the "companion" book Otis Spofford for Pink Panther, even though he needs no encouragement for latent mischievousness. As soon as we picked up the books, I started reading Ellen Tebbits to Princess (and Panther, because, even though he said it looked like a girl book he kept appearing during the reading). She loved it so much that she is now reading it to me, which is huge. Meanwhile, we decided to have Otis Spofford as a read aloud since everyone wanted to hear. Pink Pan and I are taking turns.

WELL, while reading both these books, I realized how much our perceptions of healthy weight have changed. Ellen thought she was too thin and her mother had her take special precautions because of it. The rat chapter in Otis Spofford illustrates it perfectly. The class was doing a science experiment in which one rat was fed white bread and soda pop and the other fed the nutritional meal from the cafeteria (I suspect you would be hard pressed to find a nutritional meal in a cafeteria now). The teacher wanted to illustrate that white bread and cola was not nutritionally substantive and that the rat that ate such rubble would be too thin and unhealthy. The lunchroom fed rat was plump and healthy. Wow!

Ellen and Otis were written in the early 1950's when food was cooked at home, commercial food processing had not taken over America or the school cafeteria, and people weren't scared of food (see Zilla's orthorexia entry). If we go by the perceptions shown in the books, being too thin was a negative. The ideal was a fleshed out body with a healthy glow. Today, our society is incredibly weight conscious with anorexic models causing stirs during fashion week in Milan, girls as young as six or seven obsessing about body image, and television and movie personalities getting thinner and thinner to make up for the camera weight. Yet, an astounding percentage of Americans are morbidly overweight.

I don't know where I am going with this and I suppose I should have figured that out before I started writing, but I do believe perceptions, self image, and eating are related. Without the influence of a medical problem, people who are happy and have a positive self image eat less and do more. They also have a healthy glow. I also believe that Mrs. Gitler's hypothesis (from Otis Spofford) was flawed. True, white bread and cola have no nutritional value, but by training ourselves to fill up on food with no substance, we eat more and more while trying to satiate our bodies' cravings for nutrition.

Meanwhile, we are bombarded by television, movie, and magazine images of super thin models that have been digitally enhanced to heighten youthful appearance and sharp angles. We don't have a chance to feel good about ourselves unless we are naturally willowy, with perfect skin. Added to that marketing disaster is the frenzied pace of life that requires eating in the car, or at the desk, or at least grabbing a bunch of processed foods to sling on the table when you get home late. Pile on the marketing ploys of the food industry that confuse us with the misuse of terms like "healthy," "natural, "wholesome," and "pure," and the blatant misleading with phrases on packaged chicken that tout, "no added hormones or antibodies." I'm sure the only reason the processors can stamp that on the plastic covering is that they didn't inject that chicken at the processing plant.

What we have in the end is a super thin model who swanks around in clothes that will only look good on a model creating the standard for women. We have an untrustworthy food industry that has hyped us with artificially sweetened, artificially flavored, and chemically made food that will make us thin and beautiful without breaking a sweat in the kitchen or the gym. And we have the reality of low self esteem in young girls, young adults, older women, and even men. We have the reality of high fat, high salt fast foods and prepackaged meals that are eaten so we can work more hours, have our children participate in more activities. We have the reality of chemicals in food our bodies don't know how to process. We have the reality of our bodies craving real nutrition and real food.

We have a mess with no easy answers.

1 comment:

Julie Zickefoose said...

Dear Wisteria,

A bit of congruency for you to ponder: I was Executrix of the Estate of Lois and Louis Darling. Having been fixated on their art since I was in second grade, I was a natural choice for Lois when I met her in Connecticut in the early 80's. I now draw on her drawing table; use Louis' drawing tools, and have donated the huge body of original art they left (including ravishing drawings from the Cleary books) to the University of Minnesota's Kerlan Collection of Children's Literature. I'm glad we share an admiration for their work. Thank you so much for your wonderful mention of my book!