Why Barbie Belongs on the Cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

Barbie longingly eyes a barbecued chicken. Photo courtesy Bugeater via Flickr Creative Commons.

Barbie longingly eyes a barbecued chicken. Photo courtesy Bugeater via Flickr Creative Commons.

As the Eberhart family finishes packing the contents of their Manhattan apartment in the opening scenes of the 1975 version of The Stepford Wives, a man carrying a naked female mannequin passes by. “Daddy, I just saw a man carrying a naked lady!” reports the young daughter. “Well, that’s why we’re moving to Stepford,” her father replies.

The irony is delicious: while his remark seems to indicate his disgust (“We’re getting out of this evil city with its naked plastic women!”) it in fact portends his hope for the move to Stepford, where he’ll be surrounded by women who are literally plastic and utterly compliant.

Barbie, the iconic plastic doll, is appearing on cover wraps of 1,000 copies of this year’s Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and also in a four-page advertising spread photographed by Walter Iooss, Jr., who has been shooting the Swimsuit Issue for 40 of its 50 years. A limited edition Swimsuit Issue Barbie will also be available exclusively at Target, dressed in a suit inspired by the black-and-white striped swimsuit Barbie wore at her first appearance at the New York Toy Fair in 1959.

I believe there’s more than a taste of some Stepford irony here.

{Continue reading at OnFaith!}

Eating With Our Daughters (With Joy!) + A National Adoption Month Special!

Today, in honor of National Adoption Month, I’m delighted to welcome my friend Jennifer Grant to the blog to talk about ‘eating with joy’ with her two daughters, one of whom she adopted from Guatemala. Click through to the end to order Jennifer’s book, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter, while it’s on sale for under $2!

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Let’s talk about raising healthy daughters. Your two daughters (Isabel, 13, to whom you gave birth, and Mia, 11, whom you adopted when she was a toddler) are now in middle school. In what ways do you engage with them about food and body image? Have you noticed them experiencing food or their bodies differently now that they are older?

JG: Both of my girls are real foodies.

Isabel even kept a blog a few years ago called “Confessions of a Fifth Grade Foodie.” She wrote about books, restaurants, and “best combinations of food.” (She still likes croutons dipped in soy sauce.)

One of their favorite books as little girls was Bread and Jam for Frances. You might know the story: Picky eater Frances ends up eschewing bread and jam for more interesting foods such as lobster salad sandwiches and black olives. Near the end of the story, her friend says, “I think eating is nice.”

My girls have always known that “eating is nice.” One of our former babysitters recently wrote to me, recalling how much fun it was to watch our babies eat little cubes of brie, blueberries, Tabbouleh, bits of grilled salmon, spinach leaves, and so on from the highchair tray. Like you, making good food for my kids to eat means a lot to me on many levels.

The girls and I have occasional cooking nights.  Once, recently, we talked about what the term “whole foods” means and read packages together. We ended the lesson by roasting garlic in tin foil in the oven and squeezing it over crusty bread. (Yum!)

After Mia’s adoption was finalized and she came to us as a toddler, one of the ways we all bonded with her was through food. The first night she was home, my son Theo (now 17) fed her yogurt. She had lived the first year and a half of her life in Guatemala and spoke a little Spanish.  We were all delighted as she grinned and said, “Más!” In Love You More, I wrote about the ways we labored to learn what were her food preferences after she came home from Guatemala. (It was comical.)

I want my girls – to borrow your phrase – to eat with joy, and until recently they both enjoyed food unselfconsciously. I started to notice about two years ago, however, that Isabel sometimes commented that a certain food was high in calories and sometimes seemed to be avoiding foods she liked and was reducing her portions. I could tell she wasn’t eating with quite as much joy. This threw me, as I know how much pressure girls in our country have to conform to very unrealistic body images. I hate the idea of either of my daughters becoming critical of their appearance or developing disordered eating.

Isabel is tall (now almost 5’ 10”), slim, and athletic (and very beautiful inside and out), but during that time, after a check up at the pediatrician’s office, she seemed troubled about her weight and asked me whether she weighed as much as her brother Ian. (Ian is 18 months older than her.) I was glad to say I didn’t know how much her brother weighed, but that I knew that he – like she was – was a healthy weight. The doctor had just showed her how healthy her BMI was and went over the chart that indicated that her height and weight percentiles had been consistent over the years.

I was very careful not to ignore, nor overreact to, this new behavior.

Mia is Latina and, typically, Latinas develop a little earlier than Caucasian girls so she matured a bit earlier than Isabel did. Like her older siblings, as a preteen Mia got a little rounder, but then had a growth spurt. Like her sister, she is athletic (just finished a cross country season and fall softball) and is very beautiful inside and out.

For now, she seems completely unconcerned with her weight. But I’m noticing that she takes a little bit more time in the morning choosing her clothing and brushing her hair than she used to; she is no longer the little girl who just wants to wear jeans, her older brothers’ t-shirts, and a ponytail. Parenting her through the onset of puberty has been different as I was able to predict – with great accuracy, actually – when and how Isabel would develop. With Mia, I don’t know how her birthmother matured or how she experienced the changes in her body.

The period of time when Isabel’s attitude towards eating seemed “off” overlapped with a difficult time in her life socially. She’d just started middle school and was spending time with some new friends. Once, after coming home from one of their houses, she told me that her friend’s mother was taking pictures of them and stopped herself for a moment, very gravely re-arranged their postures, and showed them how to appear “skinnier” in photos. I was stunned. But then Isabel showed me the pose and facial expression the woman said they should make for pictures, and we both burst out laughing. She knew how silly she looked, and we didn’t need to speak of it.

As in so many aspects of parenting, I note these little yellow flags and watch closely to see if they become bigger issues. I also know, somehow in particular with my daughters, that the way to keep them from telling me about something is to make too big a deal of it. So I choose my words carefully and try not to overreact when something seems odd.

Isabel’s friendship with the “new girls” was short-lived (and painful), but two years later she is back in an “eating is nice” phase. I’m grateful, but also cognizant that these issues might sprout up again and in a more serious way as she gets deeper into adolescence. As a teenager, it’s developmentally appropriate that Isabel is quite affected by (and interested in) her friends. I’m glad to say that the ones she spends her time with now are healthy and smart – and, yes, they really like to eat.

I feel like there is so much I can’t control, but I know I can try to model a healthy attitude toward food and body image for them. We eat dinner together almost every night and I make the kids their breakfasts and lunches in the morning, so I do know that they are eating a healthy variety of foods.

Last week, after coming home from her best friend’s house, Isabel told me that they’d watched a video about how pictures of models are crafted by designers. I asked her what she made of it.

“The real woman was already pretty,” she said. “They made her look weird. So fake.”

I agreed and served her a little plate of cheese and crackers to tide her over until dinner.

More about Jen:

Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter, MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family, Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by Skeptics, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels (co-editor, forthcoming, 2014), and 12: A Daybook for a Wholehearted Year (forthcoming, 2014). She is a grateful believer, a reader, a sometime poet, a dog lover, and, with her husband of 25 years, mother to four wonderfully creative and quirky tween and teenaged children. Learn more at jennifergrant.com.

Jennifer Grant’s memoir, Love You More (in e-book format) is now on sale for just $1.99 for National Adoption Month. Click here to get your copy!


How the Beauty Culture Blasphemes Our Bodies

this is the kind of beach image i'm okay with

this is the kind of beach image i’m okay with

In her memoir Bossypants, Tina Fey claims that everyone knows Photoshopped images aren’t real, but she also acknowledges that the culture of beauty has changed significantly since she was a girl. Back then, “you were either blessed with a beautiful body or not. And if you were not, you could just chill out and learn a trade.”

Today, however, “if you’re not ‘hot’ you are expected to work on it until you are… If you don’t have a good body, you’d better starve the body you have down to a neutral shape, then bolt on some breast implants, replace your teeth, dye your skin orange, inject your lips, sew on some hair, and call yourself Playmate of the year.”

I understand this implicit cultural expectation so well; for years, I struggled to remake what I was in the image of all I thought I should be. As I’ve written in my new book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, for years,

I absorbed magazines, TV, and movies uncritically and prescriptively […] everything about my appearance seemed wrong. But in America, the possibilities of individual determination are endless—you can become as rich and as thin as you determine to be!—and so I sought to change my body through all the ways that advertisements teach us is possible: the chromium picolinate supplements, the protein shakes, the NordicTrack, the chirpy aerobics videos, the Velcro-fastened ankle weights.

All that effort toward getting a certain look adds up to big business—more than $20 billion annually in the U.S. on cosmetics alone. It comes at a high price in terms of mental health, as numerous psychological studies have suggested what discerning parents have known for a long time: the more media images of stylized, retouched models a woman views, the more likely she is to become depressed and disordered in her eating.

That was me.

{Read this piece in its entirety at Christianity Today, where it originally appeared on Feb. 19}

Ken Could be Real; Barbie, Not So Much

I’m reading Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (yes, I know, you wish you had my job) and came across this interesting tidbit:

Double-D breasts on skinny women are not all that common in nature. (Barbie’s proportions are naturally found in one out of one hundred thousand women, according to researchers from the University of South Australia; Ken’s bod, by contrasts, is found in one of fifty men.)

So…you’re 2,000x more likely to see a real-life man who looks like Ken than you are to see a real-life woman who looks like Barbie?

Searching online for the University of South Australia study, I came across the story of Galia Slayen, who’s a student at Hamilton College and and a former anorexic. She’s built a life-size Barbie body (scaling up the proportions of the Barbie doll) that she’s taken various places to raise awareness about eating disorders and distorted body image.

are you frightened yet?

from a Huffington Post article by Galia Slayen:

Once a year, at the end of February, Barbie comes out of the closet to meet my friends, strangers, and those apathetic onlookers. During NEDAW, she reminds people that eating disorders and body image issues are serious and prevalent. Holding an awareness week in high school or college is just one way to get students to discuss these important issues. However, constant discussion and education is key to dealing with and overcoming eating disorders.

how about now?

And in the article, Slayen mentions a toy we can be glad has died out:

Slumber Party Barbie was introduced in 1965 and came with a bathroom scale permanently set at 110 lbs with a book entitled “How to Lose Weight” with directions inside stating simply “Don’t eat.”

Well, okay. Whatever else might be happening with the slimming of toys and pop-culture images, we can at least be happy that this one is no longer on the market…

But I’m still not thrilled that Ken is 2,000x more realistic than Barbie.

Support Groups for Self-Starvation

sources: batteredandbruised.tumblr.com, fruuitcake.tumblr.com

Carolyn Gregoire has an eye-opening report up at Huffington Post on how Tumblr has become the home to a secret obsession of thousands of teenagers who use the microblogging platform for ‘thinspo’–for posting images of super-thin women along with disturbing messages like one I found on Tumblr:


Perhaps not surprisingly, a 2011 study found that teenaged girls’ susceptibility to body image and eating disorders positively correlated with the amount of time they spent using social media.

Some of the teens couch their anorexia in terms of a ‘lifestyle choice’–as in “I’m just choosing to life a low-calorie lifestyle.” But eating disorders are nothing of the kind. The deadliest of all mental illnesses, anorexia is more of a deathstyle choice.

another gem from Tumblr #thinspo

To me, the saddest thing about this phenomenon is how the users form community with one another online even as they keep their eating disorder a secret from the people in their lives. It’s such a distortion of how God made people to live: in life-affirming communion with one another and with God, and in harmony with the rest of the creation–which includes eating.

It’s not at all hard to see how too little family time + too much isolated time online could possibly lead to distorted ideas about bodies and eating. Apparently, Tumblr is cracking down on these blogs, but it won’t be long before these poisonous ideas find another platform.

A few thoughts on preventing these support groups from claiming your loved one as a member:

  • Make family meals a priority–family meals are really important. Try to make them happen.
  • Forbid ‘delete history’–Unsupervised time online is almost never a good idea; forbidding ‘delete history’ is one simple, effective rule.
  • Curb your own ‘fat talk.’ Refuse to allow people’s appearance (your own or others’) be a topic of conversation.
  • ‘Interrupt’ dangerous messages. Openly critique the unrealistic images of bodies presented in print, online, and on TV.
  • Celebrate communion, and not just on Sunday. Talk a lot about food as an edible symbol of God’s sustaining love (or whatever metaphor makes sense to you.)

What are your thoughts? How else can we help young people find and form better communities?