Friday, March 29, 2013

My Disappointing Search for Body-Positive Adult Fiction (Help Wanted!)

"A girl learns that stories happen to 'beautiful' women, whether they are interesting or not. And, interesting or not, stories do not happen to women who are not 'beautiful.'"
- Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

I've begun a new quest! No, no, don't worry. It's nothing quite so personally disruptive as giving up mirrors for a year. Yet, in some ways, my new quest also has life-changing potential.  Here's the scoop: 

Who: Me.
What: Build a long list of body-positive adult fiction books, and read them all.
When: Now! This year! Forever! 
Where: Wherever books are sold (or, preferably, borrowed, exchanged, or given away for free)
Why: Because before I was a writer, I was a reader. 

It kills me to know that I'll never be able to read every great fiction book in my lifetime, but - given this fact - I may as well start filtering out the stories that make me feel like shit about my body. I'm also perfectly willing to give up books that reinforce the idea (the MYTH) that "stories do not happen to women who are not 'beautiful.'"

I'm SO SICK AND TIRED of reading books I've picked up specifically because they are rumored to have an amazing and complex female protagonist who doesn't fit mainstream beauty norms, only to find that the protagonist's happy ending only shows up after she loses weight or goes through some other sort of physical transformation. Of course, no writer has ever directly said "my character's life completely changed because she got that haircut!" No, they aren't that obvious. Instead, they show us that ugly duckling heroines who finally become swans, find happiness because of the confidence that comes along with becoming a swan. Yes, it is not beauty but confidence-brought-on-by-beauty that changes women's lives for the better. Ohhhh, right. I get it now; there aren't any other ways to build confidence other than by changing one's appearance! Anyway, you know what kind of books I'm talking about, the ones that teach us that, no matter how many good things we've got going on (exciting careers, fulfilling hobbies, loving relationships, pure dumb luck), our lives will only be as fabulous as our looks. 

Well screw that. It isn't even true. 

Zillions of REAL, LIVING, women have bodies that are ugly/plain/weird/fat/short/crazy-tall/hairy/big-footed/small-breasted/round-bellied/crooked-toothed/frizzy-haired/etc., and yet they still manage to find gorgeous love, exciting careers, and generally fabulous lives. YOU are probably one of these women!

But where are the literary stories that share this truth? 

Great book series! Start here.
I refuse to believe that they aren't out there. I probably just haven't known where to look.  I've tried building a list of body-positive adult fiction.... and it's been really hard. So far I'm reading or re-reading some of the best from Jennifer Weiner, and have also tracked down a sweet mystery series written by Sue Ann Jafarian, in which the feisty sluethy heroine is a "never-married, middle-aged, plus-sized woman who makes no excuses for her weight." But that's about it. 

Instead, my searches on Google and on have mostly landed on one of three not-quite-right categories:

(1) Lists featuring "books with plus-sized heroes/heroines" which are not, actually, body-positive, due to the fact that  in many of these books, fat/chubby/plus-sized characters find happiness only after weight-loss (such as Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone or Doug Crandell's The Flawless Skin of Ugly People - which both happen to be amazing books with the exception of their subtle "get prettier then get happier" messages).

(2) Lists of body-positive young adult fiction (I mean, I loved Judy Blume's scoliotic Deenie, back in the day, but I want the grown-up version for my grown-up life!).  

Wow, this 1991 cover really brings back memories! You too?
(3) Lists of explicit erotica serving unique fetish readers. (I'm not knocking explicit erotica, but I'm waaayy to prudish to read this stuff on the bus, and I find appearance-based fetishes to be somewhat - errr... inherently - dehumanizing. I mean, check out the book covers below. Is it just me, or is this just a sexified version of the dehumanized "headless fatties" we're always seeing in the "scared-of-fat-mainstream-news-community?")

Headless Fattie Erotica: Exhibit A
Headless Fattie Erotica: Exhibit B

In other words, I haven't yet found an already-curated list of truly body-positive adult fiction. 

So, I'm making one. Can you help me? 

I need book recommendations. ANY fiction genre is welcomed. 

What are YOUR favorites? 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bodacious Body Image Wednesday: Seven Steps to Mindful Eating (of Chocolate)!

It's Bodacious Body Image Wednesday again, and do I have a (chocolatey) treat for you! This week's body image activity is an exercise in mindful eating.... of CHOCOLATE! What is mindful eating? Well... the New York Times did a great job exploring the concept in this article, but I'll try to boil it down to this quote from Psychology Today by Dr. Jan Chozen Bays (Zen teacher and author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering A Healthy and Joyful Relationship With Food) :
Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. We pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds (crunch!) of our food. We pay attention to the experience of the body. Where in the body do we feel hunger? Where do we feel satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?
Mindful eating - which is different from "intuitive eating" - focuses on taking sensuous pleasure in foods, and on the conscious engagement in all of your senses (except for your sense of guilt!). Mindful eating is the opposite of mindless eating (you know, the kind of eating that starts with a DVD and a box of Krispy Kremes and ends with .... a box). As someone who once had a love/hate relationship with food (Krispy Kreme glazed chocolate cake donuts in particular), I am grateful to mindful eating for teaching me to just. love. food

Mindful eating is awesome and 100% consistent with the 

I used to binge on a box of these, eating only the glazed exterior... yipes!

Through mindful eating I discovered that I don't even LIKE the slightly chemically flavor of Krispy Kreme doughnuts (it turns out that I much prefer the Passion Fruit Milk Chocolate pastries from Dynamo Donuts). Mindful eating helped me kick my "clean the plate even if you're stuffed" habit. It turned me into a sublime savorer, a moan-when-I-eat nosher, a best-hamburger-in-San-Franisco chaser, and the last person at the table to finish eating. This is a vast improvement from the girl who ate the exact same calorie-counted breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day during my freshman year of college (save for the donut binges).

Passion Fruit Glaze + Milk Chocolate Crumbles? OH YEAH! 

Mindful eating, like many Zen habits, is not learned overnight. Below is a beginner's lesson, step-by-step. The only supplies you'll need are: an open mind and a small piece of chocolate (a Hershey's kiss is a good size, though I'd upgrade to a higher quality chocolate if possible!) I am drawing from a lesson outlined in this Psychology Today article. (Modeling each step is my sister, Hanna, great lover of chocolate and the person who first introduced me to Califonia's abundant gastronomic culture.) Bon AppĂ©tit!

Steps to Mindfully Eating Chocolate:

1. Notice the weight of a piece of chocolate in your hand. Look at it closely.
Looks good to me! Swiss chocolate whoooeee!

2. Observe the shape and color. Use at least three words to describe it to yourself.
("Swiss!" "Red" and "Just the right size")

3. As you unwrap it, listen closely to the crinkle of the foil or paper.

4. Bring the chocolate up to your nose, and inhale deeply. Notice what thoughts come into your mind as you do this. The smell of chocolate can bring up some powerful feelings and memories. Deeply inhale.

Doesn't this image make you take a deep breath just from looking at it? Better go get yourself some chocolate!

5. Do any critical thoughts come up like, "I shouldn't eat this"? If so, let the thoughts come and go as if you are letting go of a balloon. 
(Hanna didn't have this problem!)

6. Place the chocolate in your mouth. Notice the flavor, richness, and texture. Pay attention to how the sensations change as it melts and molds to your mouth.  
Yeah, I know you're jealous! 

7. Follow the sensations as the chocolate slips down your throat into your stomach. 
(BTW isn't this video super cute? Half-way through, Hanna asked, "Can I have another bite??" Yes, of course you can!)


This is how you can eat chocolate mindfully. But don't forget - ANY food can (and should!) be eaten mindfully. Good luck!

Any chocolate lovers out there willing to give it a try and report back? How did it go?

What is YOUR favorite chocolate treat? 

P.S. - I'm a huge fan of these Equal Exchange Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate bars. I buy them  in bulk from so I never run out.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Greetings from Barcelona: TODAY Marks One Full Year Since I've Brought Mirrors Back Into My Life...

Greetings Friends! I'm in SPAIN!!
Exactly ONE YEAR AGO I was gearing up for my "First Look Party" AKA my Body Positive Bonanza, filled with friends, family, and my favorite Bay Area positive body image organizations: About-Face, Voluptuart, and activist extraordinaire, Marilyn Wann. It was an amazing night, perfectly end to a year of smeared makeup, lessons in trust, and ample self-discovery.  Life has been pretty great since my no-mirrors project ended. I'll save the details for you to read about in the book (out May 2nd!), but suffice it to say that I'm more secure about my body,  a better friend and partner, and generally happier that I was before the project. 

Anyhoo... I can't think of a cooler way to commemorate March 25th (which also happens to be my 4-year dating anniversary with Michael!), than by seeing THE FINAL HARDCOVER version of my forthcoming book, Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall (left). Oh, and it doesn't hurt that I'm currently in Barcelona, Spain, kicking off a week of vacation with my parents and siblings, Hanna and Peter. I only wish Michael could be here with us, but he's being sent to the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand for work. (Yeah, I don't feel sorry for him either!)

Okay, that's all I've got for now. More soon. I can't wait to share this week's positive body image activity with you on Wednesday. Hint: in the spirit of my stay in Europe, CHOCOLATE will be involved!

PS - Have any of you been to Spain? It's my first time here and I'd LOVE recommendations for activities, sight-seeing, and dining!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fun Fact Friday: Publishers Weekly STARRED Review for Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall

"This book should be required reading for those women who struggle with body-image issues—and even those who don’t."
Alright, alright. I know this isn't typical for a "Fun Fact" post (for newcomers, my FFF posts usually cover interesting tidbits from sociology, psychology, history, and contemporary feminist scholars). But still, it's a fact, and a fun one at that. My heart is bursting with pride.

My forthcoming book, Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall, has received a coveted "starred review" from Publishers Weekly. When I heard the news last week I hadn't even heard of Publishers Weekly, but my editor explained that it's one of the main sources that book buyers turn to when purchasing their inventory. Woohooo! 

Here's the full review:

In this brave and inspiring work, Gruys challenges long-held cultural cues about female beauty.
After recovering from an eating disorder, the author set out to show—guided by her volunteer work at About Face, a San Francisco nonprofit organization, and her pursuit of a Ph.D. in sociology at U.C.L.A.—that true beauty is anything but skin deep. 
She vowed to not look in a mirror—or any reflective surface—for a year, and to document how this decision affected the way she related to her fiancĂ© and to the world at large, writing a blog about the experience to keep herself accountable. Gruys’s project is especially admirable given that her wedding occurred during the year in question (and weddings have been known to make even the most humble woman become image-obsessed). 
Gruys admits to her all-too-human insecurities and describes her sometimes-difficult effort to live life without defining herself through beauty. Her story encourages others to do the same. This book should be required reading for those women who struggle with body-image issues—and even those who don’t. 
For a first time author like me, a review like this feels incredibly validating. Will it increase book sales? Who knows. Right now I'm just feeling proud of myself and grateful for those who have supported me along the way.  

Speaking of gratitude, I'd like to send out a special message of thanks to the following authors and scholars who took the time to read and review a pre-publication (i.e., typo-ridden) copy of the manuscript:

Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter
Caitlin Boyle, author of Healthy Tipping Point
Golda Poretsky, author of Stop Dieting Now
Sally McGraw, author of Already Pretty
Cynthia Bulik, author of The Woman in the Mirror
Natalie Boero, author of Killer Fat
Lynn Peril, author of Pink Think
Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, founder of The Beheld
Lynne Gerber, author of Seeking the Straight & Narrow
Jennifer Berger, executive director for About-Face
Marilyn Wann, author of Fat!So?
Abigail Saguy, author of What's Wrong with Fat?

Okay, that's all I've got for today... Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Introducing Bodacious Body Image Wednesdays + Ten Steps To Positive Body Image

Can you find it??
I have a file in my office where I keep a collection of activities and quizzes that promote Healthy Body Image. I've tried several of these throughout my own journey to a healthy body image, and I use some in my classrooms and in the media-literacy workshops I give in my volunteer work for About-Face. I've even shared a few on this blog (like HERE).

But few days ago I realized that this file folder filled with great body image activities and quizzes wasn't doing as much good as it ought to. So.... beginning this week I'm introducing:

Bodacious Body Image Wednesdays!

Every Wednesday for the foreseeable future, I'll be posting a new healthy body image activity or quiz for your enjoyment!  I'll also be building a "master list" on my new "BODY IMAGE ACTIVITIES & QUIZZES" page, up there in my navigation bar.

For today's activity - the very first of this new weekly series - let's start with something simple: the "Ten Steps To Positive Body Image" list from the National Eating Disorders Association.  I posted this list way back in August 2012, but want to bring it out again. So... Here it is, looking all artistic:

Anyone know the original source? I haven't been able to find it.

Step 1:
Download this image, file it, pin it, whatever works for you. You can also find a printable black-and-white PDF HERE.

Step 2: 
Read through the list and note any steps that particularly resonate with you.

Step 3: 
Take ONE step. (my favorites are #7, "Wear clothes that are comfortable...," and #9, "Do something nice for yourself...")

Step 4: 
Note how your ONE step made you feel. Consider taking a few more steps, time permitting!

Step 5:
Keep this list handy, either printed out in your home or workplace, or easily accessible on your computer or Pinterest account. Return to it OFTEN, particularly when experiencing what I call the "Body Image Blues." (otherwise known as a "Bad Hair Day" or an "I Feel Fat" feeling or an "I hate my [fill in the blank with a body part]" thought.

Step 6:
Share with others! Spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, snail-mail, whatever!

And that's it!  

What do you think of my new Wednesday series? Do you have any great body image activities to contribute? I want to hear about them!

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Poetry of Normal Eating, Defined

NEDAwareness 2013. Everybody Knows Somebody.
Last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDAwareness) Week of 2013, the largest education and outreach effort on eating disorders in the United States. As a recovered anorexic (well, technically, a recovered Eating-Disorder-Not-Otherwise-Specified-ic) this week always swells my heart with emotion, and I take it pretty seriously; I could have used this kind of enthusiastic advocacy, information, and support in high school, maybe earlier. 

UCLA's Body Image Task Force is pretty awesome!
For my small part, I headed to Los Angeles to give at talk at UCLA, for "I Love My Body Week," run by the UCLA Body Image Task ForceThe students running the Task Force were phenomenal (big shout-out to Nicola S. for !) and I had a great time.  Most of my talk was in a Q&A interview format, but I had about 5 minutes at the beginning to plug NEDAwareness. I'd planned to narrate my experience developing and then recovering from my eating disorder, but at the last minute I had a change of heart. I decided to read a poem.  Admittedly, the poem I recited wasn't originally written as such, but the first time I heard it read aloud the words sunk into my heart with the intensity and emotion that has always defined poetry in my mind. 

The year was 2002 and I was in my first month of "Intensive Outpatient Therapy" at an eating disorder clinic near my college. I had just finished a group session of "calming" yoga (which was far-from-calming since the room was filled with palpably anxious young women, at least 1/3 of whom were quietly crying in Child's Pose while another 1/3 were trying to stealthily burn a shit-ton of calories by adding imperceptible calisthenic moves into our Sun Salutations. I was one of the criers). After the Corpse Pose grande finale (and some of us really did look like corpses) were all shuffled into our next therapy activity for a lesson on "normal eating."  

Normal eating? What the hell is that? I remember thinking. Okay, give me the "normal eating diet" and I'll follow it, I thought. I was good at diets.  But normal eating wasn't a diet. It also wasn't a list of foods, or "points," or food groups, or even levels of satiety that needed to be monitored "intuitively." Instead, it was this:

Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied.
 It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. 
Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. 
Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. 
Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. 
It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. 
Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. 
And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. 
Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. 
Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.

I won't dive into the details of why and how this "definition" (poem, I tell you. POEM!) shaped the trajectory of my recovery. Suffice it to say that I'd never been able to successfully eat "intuitively," but finally forgave myself for this after learning that normal eating takes some "time and attention" and that emotional eating isn't always disordered (indeed, mindful eating is all about pleasure and being in tune with your body!). 
Because when it comes to poetry, all you can do is TRY.
So anyway, at my talk last week I did my best to recite this "definition" of normal eating with the spirit of spoken word poetry. If I'd planned ahead, I would have worn a beatnik beret, brought bongos, and insisted on finger-snaps instead of applause. But, even without these poetic accouterments I think I managed to pull it off with the emotional effect I was hoping to cultivate. Regardless, I hope someone else out there finds it helpful. 
Now you tell me: What is YOUR definition of "Normal Eating?" Can it be defined? And what's your opinion of having governmentally defined "dietary guidelines?"