Thursday, April 28, 2011

Choose the path less traveled, Gwyneth. Get your cheeseburger on. And I promise we'll still love you.

A recent New Yorker article talked about Gwyneth Paltrow and the new cookbook she is releasing.

I've enjoyed Gwyneth's recent run on Glee as Holly Holiday, the substitute teacher turned temptress who wins the heart of McKinley High's glee club director, Mr. Shoe. But during Gwyneth's last appearance on the show, I noticed that she looked frightfully pale and thin during one of her musical numbers.

Gwyneth has always been willowy and thin, but she looked really drawn and thin on Glee. Almost sickly. And then I read the article in the New Yorker.

The first half of the article includes a direct quote from Gwynnie in which she runs down what she has eaten that day: "A cappucino, some poached eggs with spinach, an apple, almonds, some cheese and bread, and a turkey sandwich with avocado and tomato."

Pretty light fare—and it might explain why she looks so skinny these days on Glee. But later in the article, they quote friends of Gwyneth's who say she eats like a truck driver.

A truck driver? Really?

Have you ever seen a truck driver eat a turkey sandwich with avocado and tomato?

I don't want to offend truck drivers. And I really don't want to offend Gwyneth since she will likely be my best friend some day. But tell me the truth—which version of Gwyneth do you think is accurate? Skinny girl who eats like a truck driver or skinny girl who lives on rabbit food?

To her credit, I suspect she was being honest about what she'd eaten that day (and I love a girl who can be honest about her food intake), but it doesn't sound like enough for a busy thirty-something working mother of two.

Gwyneth is at that age when women in Hollywood have a choice: stay rail thin and start to look unhealthy, or eat like a normal person and say good-bye to the good movie roles.

Gwyneth has clearly chosen the latter, and like I said above, I'm glad to see her still working. But tell us the real truth, Gwyneth, aren't you just dying for a greasy hamburger, cheese fries, and a shake?

It beats the hell out of turkey.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Baby steps


I haven't had time to talk to my parents for two weeks, but I made sure to call them on Easter. When I asked my mom how my father was doing, she gave me a dissertation on his medication list and his latest symptoms.

But when I asked how she was doing, she only said two words: "I'm fat."

I sighed into the phone and wondered for not the first time if my mother would ever accept herself the way she is.

"I'm going to that reunion this weekend," Mom explained, "and I wish I looked better."

"Everyone will be too happy to see you," I said, "to notice if you've gained a few pounds."

"I wish I believed that," Mom said.

Then I decided to try a different approach.

"Do you think Sandy is fat?" I asked, referring to a good friend of hers who has a very average body for a woman in her late sixties—Sandy's body blossoms at her breasts and hips and thighs but nips in just enough to make her look womanly at her waist and calves. Sure, Sandy could lose twenty or thirty pounds, but she still looks attractive and relatively fit for a sextagenarian.

"No, I don't think Sandy's fat," my mother answered, clearly not seeing where I was going with this line of questioning.

"Mom," I said, "Do you know that Sandy has the same body you do?"

"She does?" Mom said, clearly skeptical.

"Yes, she does. Almost exactly the same. And when you see Sandy, you don't see the little bit of padding around her hips. You just see her smile. Because every time Sandy walks in the room, the first thing she does is smile and say how happy she is to see you. And that's what you're like. You're too positive and happy for anyone to have time to examine your body. The people you see this weekend won't notice any tiny little flaw. They'll notice your enthusiasm for life."

I've had this conversation with my mother before without any luck, so I fully expected her to balk, to say that she didn't agree, to talk about needing a dress that would hide her arms. This is a woman we lovingly call "Contrary Penny" because she so likes to disagree with almost everything I say.

So I can't tell you how surprised I was when she said this: "I'm so glad you said that, Molly. Now I feel so much better."

And out of nowhere, there is progress. At long last.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The grass is not always greener
by guest blogger Amber Leab

People have often told me—throughout a lifetime of being underweight—how great I look.

I confidently wear a bikini.

I’m one of those people you might love to hate: I can eat anything, and as much of it as I want, without gaining weight.

People, especially girls and women, praise my thinness, exclaiming “How do you stay so skinny?!” or “You’re so lucky.”

Other people envy me—a person whose thinness is due to cystic fibrosis, who has had regular, extended hospital stays since childhood, and whose daily medical regimen no one would ever envy. But I have this bizarre cultural privilege: I am skinny. It hasn’t generally mattered to people why; thinness is seen as an always-positive attribute in our society.

In the summer of 2004, I weighed 92 pounds. I was very sick and doing everything in my power to put on weight. My doctor went so far as to prescribe an appetite stimulant, derived from cannabis, which was supposed to give me the legal munchies.

It may have helped me put on a pound or two, but that wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t just that I was too thin; I needed a lung transplant and had to weigh a minimum of 100 pounds before I would even be considered for the surgery. I was left with one option: a feeding tube for high-calorie protein shakes every night while I slept, in addition to a high-calorie diet every day. This was scary for me, not just in the way that a feeding tube (and serious illness) would be frightening for anyone, but because, in spite of the serious illness, I liked being so thin and was afraid of gaining too much weight.

I know now that these feelings had much more to do with control (and, specifically, the lack of it in my life at that time) than the actual numbers, and that they weren’t rational or healthy attitudes to hold.

As much as I knew intellectually that I was too thin, I never felt too thin.

When I finally got beyond my fear of “fattening up” (which is how countless doctors and nurses, clearly not sensitive to issues involving body image, jokingly referred to my need to gain weight) and faced the reality of my situation, I scheduled the procedure to place the feeding tube.

I did so with reticence and anxiety.

There would be anesthesia, there would be an incision through the wall of my abdomen, there would be a tube permanently sticking out, there would be pain while my stomach healed from the surgery. I would be hooked up to a nutrition pump, much like an IV pole, every night.

On the operating table, I was prepped for the procedure by a female nurse and a male doctor. When the nurse lifted the hospital gown above my abdomen, she exclaimed, “Look at that pretty flat stomach!”

I processed this statement for a moment. A medical professional had complimented me on my thinness, which was so extreme as to prevent me from having life-saving surgery, while prepping me for a procedure intended to help me gain weight.

To his credit, the doctor quickly snapped, “That’s the problem!” but her message couldn’t have been clearer.

We live in a culture that so values thinness, that values such extreme thinness, that I received a compliment about my body when I was on an operating table, when I was so ill and weighed so little that doctors feared I might not survive major surgery.

While this might’ve been a single extreme incident, I can’t say the same about a lifetime of these compliments, the envy of women, and the gaze of men directed at my ultra-thin (so thin because it was diseased) body.

I can forgive myself for enjoying these moments; I had a difficult life that inspired little envy, and I took the compliments and positive feelings about myself where I could find them.

When I received that comment on the operating table, though, I felt a tangled mess of emotions: I was happy to hear something—anything—uplifting during such a trying time, I was scared to lose that unscarred, flat stomach, and I was angry at the nurse for her inability to read the situation.

Later that same year I had a double-lung transplant and have since gained 25 pounds. I’m still thin, but curvier than before. I threw out the old bikinis. The regular “You’re so skinny!” compliments are gone, but I’ve come to see those comments, even when they were meant in kindness, as all part of our toxic culture.

Depictions of unhealthily thin women in film, television, and advertising constantly bombard us, distorting the way we see one another and how we define a “healthy” body. Extremely thin bodies are often seen as the epitome of health and beauty, when the fact is that healthy, beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes.

If we all didn’t have such a distorted view of the female form, women might have better relationships with their bodies, instead of hating them, resorting to cosmetic surgery for self-esteem issues, and having unrealistic expectations about how they should look.

AMBER LEAB holds a Master’s degree in English & Comparative Literature from the University of Cincinnati and a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature & Creative Writing from Miami University. In 2008, she and Stephanie Rogers co-founded Bitch Flicks, the feminist film review site that advances “the radical notion that women like good movies.” In addition to her film analyses, her fiction has appeared in The Georgetown Review, and in other places soon, she hopes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pregnant women lead us into the light

of weight each week, mourn the loss of waist—
jeans too tight to button, I prefer to blossom.
I surrender to coconut salmon in banana leaves,
miso soup with prawns, paella, lasagna, seafood
risotto, mangu and tostones, salads of blueberries,
blood oranges, and papaya, the bloom of belly,
breasts spilling over seams, petals of areolas darkening.

I’ve abandoned the lunch-break park with its tire swing
and picnic of stale chips for the circus, lion tamers,
dogs with purple tutus, magicians pulling doves
from top hats, trapeze artists somersaulting
through the air. I want the Big Top’s pillows
of cotton candy dissolving in my mouth, mounds
of popcorn shiny with butter, globs of caramel
apples, hot dogs drenched in mustard.

Blood thickening and milk springing from nipples
remind me: be open. Enough of this suburb
with its square meals served in look-alike
houses. Give me Paris with its artists scattered
on sidewalks, painted confetti, dancers
in discotheques stretching onto streets at dawn.
With more body to envelop, I’ll browse boutiques
at the Rue du St.-Honoré, lounge sipping café-au-lait,
nibbling a croissant’s flakey layers. Order coq-au-vin
or pot-au-feu, decorate the board with baguette,
brie. Will mousse aux fraises complete me?

If I’d been born with different genes—
petite, straight-hipped, willowy-tall—would I enjoy
fat bowls of kalamata olives, sliced avocado,
desserts of mangoes in cream, pumpkin pie?
I surrender to possibility, to joy, to feasts
of seven-grain breads, lamb stews, chocolate
soufflés. I thank this baby whose growing bones
demand wheels of provolone, sticks of mozzarella,
cubes of sharp cheddar, cups of vanilla yogurt
at two a.m., whose kicks remind me to taste
roast beef, venison steak, the cream of deviled eggs.

Christine Stewart-Nuñez is the author of five volumes of poetry. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in a variety of magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Calyx, Arts & Letters, and North American Review.

The themes of her work range from explorations of popular culture, inquiry into the lives of historical women, and the gendered body to pregnancy/childbirth, loss, and travel.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pooping perfect

A week ago I wrote a post called "Everybody poops . . . but not on the same schedule" about how much trouble I have pooping—and how it sometimes seems like the people I know who don't have trouble pooping also don't have trouble with their weight. As I said then, it makes me wonder if I would be supermodel thin if I could kick the constipation habit.

After I wrote this, my friend Kara Thurmond, creator of the Neo-19th century cooking blog, An Hour in the Kitchen, sent me the list below about ways to make it easier to poop. I would be derelict in my duties if I didn't share those tips with all of you.

1. Chew and chew some more. I would say the first thing to do to improve your pooping is to chew your food well. I mean really well, more than you think is necessary. Chew it until there isn't anything left to chew.

2. Eat yogurt (full-fat, plain, sweetened by you lightly with honey, fruit or maple syrup) and lacto fermented food like pickles (Bubbies is one brand, check the label). I would find a local, organic yogurt instead of going with Activia.

3. Tame your stress. This is a big one. You can't control the amount of stressful events in your life, but you can control how you react to them. To start, when you feel overwhelmed, just take a deep breath and say something like "everything will get done." It sounds silly, but it redirects your brain. I believe that dealing with stress in a positive way is the key to many health problems.

4. Go gluten-free. Plus I really, really think you need to give up gluten for a week or two just to see if you feel differently. It's not something you'll have to give up forever, but your "gut" may been a little "repairing".

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kate Winslet: walking the walk AND talking the talk

I've been a fan of Kate Winslet since she was a curvy nineteen-year-old in Sense and Sensibility sixteen years ago (pictured to the left). She was beautiful in that film but she also looked like someone we could all aspire to be, which is the kind of actress we need to see more of in Hollywood.

Around that time, Winslet's co-star (and Sense and Sensibility's Oscar-winning screenwriter) Emma Thompson told Winslet that if she ever became one of those anorexic-looking actresses found all over Hollywood, Thompson would stop speaking to her.

What Thompson said must have had an impact because Winslet has never become that kind of actress, the kind who looks malnourished.

Yes, she's more thin now—presumably she's lost her baby fat since S&S—than she was then, but she's also not too thin, and I have to give her credit for not caving to industry standards that require most actresses to look underweight.

Because of this, I shouldn't have been surprised when Winslet recently opened up in a completely honest and healthy way about her past weight issues in the April issue of Glamour magazine.

After the Glamour reporter asked Winslet about being called "blubber" as a young girl of eleven when she was 5'6" and 200 pounds, Winslet said, "Looking back on it, I really wasn't that heavy. I was just stockier than the other sporty, whippy-looking kids."

What that means is that Winslet is admitting that 200 pounds isn't really heavy for a five-foot-six woman, but rather, as she says, stocky. This is obviously something I've believed for years, so when I read about Winslet saying the same thing, I wanted to put my copy of Glamour up to my mouth and give it a big old kiss.

But it gets even better.

Because Winslet also admits a slight irritation with the backhanded compliments she used to get at that weight. "People would say to me," she explains, "''You've got such a beautiful face,' in the way of, like, "Oh, isn't it a shame that from the neck down you're questionable.'"

I know exactly what she is talking about. As I discussed in my "I don't care what anyone says—I think you're hot" post, people feel completely comfortable making these kinds of comments that on the surface sound like praise but in truth are laced with implicit criticism.

So when Winslet admitted this had also happened to her, I felt like I'd found my soulmate.

Finally, when asked about whether or not she considers plastic surgery, Winslet said, "I don't have parts of my body that I hate or would like to trade for somebody's else's or wish I could surgically adjust into some fantasy version of what they are."

All I have to say is, Kate Winslet, will you be my new BFF?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Everyone poops . . . but not on the same schedule

I am really beginning to believe that the key to not being overweight is pooping.

I'll admit that most of my evidence for this theory is anecdotal, but I can't help but notice that a good deal of the people I know who poop regularly are thin.

My husband Dave's pooping schedule, for instance, is as predictable as the sunrise and sunset—once in the morning and once at night. Without fail. And he has never had a problem with his weight. In fact, I think he has been the same weight all of his adult life.

My dad's the same way—his pooping is in fact so efficient that he can stand up from the dining table, announce that he has to "use the facilities," go take care of business, and be back at the table in five minutes.

On the other hand, my pooping schedule is about as easy to predict as a girl's first period. In other words, you have no idea when it's coming, and inevitably it always arrives at a bad time.

The problem with that is that when it comes at a bad time I have no choice but to hold it, which is not only unhealthy, it also means that my body goes into revolt, either pushing the poop out more vigorously or pulling it back inside like a turtle head (possibly Dave's favorite phrase).

No matter when it comes, it's almost never a good thing, and as a result, I spend most of my life bloated and in pain.

One of my friends once told me that she never understood how anyone could poop in a public place. (Spoken like someone who never has trouble pooping.) But if you're like me, you go where you have to . . . at rest stops, at work (thank God for faculty bathrooms!), at various McDonald's locations, at the Pak-a-sak on Highway 27 in Richmond, Indiana, at almost every Barnes & Noble I've ever been to, and many, many times at the Pizza Hut on Harrison Avenue on the west side of Cincinnati.

(I guess that last example should be explained . . . between our junior and senior years in college, I used to visit Dave at his parents' house in Cincinnati. The only problem was that his parents' house only had one bathroom. And it was centrally located—right between the living room, the kitchen, the master bedroom, and the den. Smack dab in the middle of the house. So no matter where you were sitting on the first floor, you could hear the person in the bathroom. This meant that, for probably fifteen years, I was unable to poop in their house. And the closest bathroom I could find was at the Pizza Hut on Harrison Avenue on the west side of Cincinnati, which is now—through no fault of my own—closed.)

People who don't "get" pooping in public places are people who don't HAVE to poop in public places. They have no understanding of what it means to be overcome by the sudden urge to take a dump. Their digestive system is regular, they are healthy, and usually they are also slim.

I guess I don't have to tell you that the friend who scoffed at pooping in pubic was, of course, thin.

I read an interview with Whoopi Goldberg about a year ago in which she claimed that losing weight was all about pooping. She had just dropped some serious pounds (which I believe she has now gained back), and she explained that she just had to learn to poop. Once she started pooping regularly, the extra weight disappeared.

I keep waiting for that to happen to me.

It seems like more and more people (including me) have some form of IBS these days, and it makes me wonder if there's a connection between that surge and the increase in obesity. Is it possible that Americans are getting more fat because we simply can't get enough poop out? And is it also possible that the toxins in our environment—our air, our homes, even our food—are messing with our digestive systems?

I have to believe there's some connection.

No matter what the reason, I feel confident that if you can poop regularly, you can also look good in a bathing suit.

And hopefully you can avoid an embarrassing trip to Pizza Hut.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Happy birthday! Happy blogoversary!

Today is my 41st birthday and the second anniversary of the blog. To celebrate, I am announcing a special offer.

My first book, How to Survive Graduate School & Other Disasters, is coming out in May and up for pre-sale now at for just $8 + shipping. As an added bonus, anyone who pre-orders the book before the end of my birthday (midnight April 5th) will be entered into a drawing to win a $25 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble.

How to Survive Graduate School & Other Disasters is a collection of short stories about everyone from graduate students to Girl Scouts, from teenagers to retirees. These stories are set in Cincinnati, New Jersey, Indiana, Baltimore, East Berlin, and Washington, D.C., but all of them have one thing in common: they are stories about surviving the disasters and dysfunctional relationships we all have with friends, family, and lovers.

Though no single story in HOW TO SURVIVE is explicitly about women’s body issues, all of them feature women who struggle with how they see themselves.

In the title story, “How to Survive Your Last Year of Graduate School,” the main character is reluctant to use her body to get ahead in academia, but ultimately realizes she must at least appear to play the game, causing her to do something she almost never does:

“You wear a skirt.

And knee-high boots.

With black stockings.

And you saunter into [your department chair’s] office like the slut you used to be in college, all hip and ass because you don’t really have the breasts. You tell him how excited you are about your defense, you tell him that your dissertation director has given you the go-ahead and how much you’ve appreciated his guidance over the past five years.

He is moved.

He blushes.

He looks at your knees.

In “The Lake in Winter,” a young woman’s self esteem is so low that she is willing to put herself in dangerous positions with men she doesn’t know just to improve her standing among her peers:

“Violet is just average, and for her, a special boy comes around only as often as the seasons. So she feels like Ty is a prize, something to be cherished. She’s desperate to hold on to him. Even if she can’t do it in public. Even if almost no one else knows what they do. This means she goes along with him no matter how far across the line he travels. In the few weeks that Ty has been taking her to the airport, he has taught her to go further than she’s ever gone before, but the night in the ice-fishing shack is something entirely different.

And in many of the other stories, including "Himmel und Erde," the female characters see themselves as bland and unappealing:

“For every part of Sarah that shines, I have a part that is equally dull. My flat, dirt-colored hair hangs around my shoulders in uneven, nearly transparent strands. My empty gray eyes look at me every morning in the mirror and beg for more.

More beauty, more vitality.


If you don’t get around to ordering the book today but order before the end of the month, have no fear—there will be another drawing—this one for a free copy of Stephanie Klein’s Moose, an outstanding memoir about a slightly plump young girl who was sent, against her will, to fat camp.

Be sure to let me know you ordered (here on the blog, on Facebook, or via email at, so I can include you in the birthday or April drawing!