What Do We Mean By “Messy?”

Thanks, everyone who left thoughtful comments on yesterday’s post!

from Flickr user JugglerPM, used under CC license
from Flickr user JugglerPM, used under CC license

I wanted to clarify a few points:

#1 Some of you pointed out that “messy” can be a useful term and shouldn’t be lumped in with the careles use of “manic,” “bipolar,” “psychotic,” etc.

You’re probably right. ‘Messy’ is in a different category, and we all have messes in our lives.

I’m not objecting to the use of ‘messy’ per se. I’m objecting to the way “messy” is thrown out there on the Internet as a “just folks” line when every other marker indicates the absolute opposite. (See the example under point #3)

It’s like when people who were clearly cool and popular in high school try to backtrack and say they were actually nerdy outsiders once being a nerdy outsider became its own kind of cool.

#2 I do realize that wealth and privilege are no barrier against mental illness, alcoholism, and abusive, horrific family situations.

And I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear.

Those who’ve read The Glass Castle know that (spoiler!) Jeannette Walls’ mother was in fact sitting on real estate valued at over a million dollars while her children scrounged in the garbage cans for food.

{There’s also this horrific story of the “Poorest Rich Kids in the World” in Rolling Stone}

However, I wanted to make clear my appreciation for Jeannette Walls’ refusal to romanticize her upbringing, especially in a cultural moment that occasionally indulges in nostalgie de la boue–this sense that poverty is somehow ennobling and simple and even desirable. I’m

#3 I do (tentatively of course) stand by my hunch that middle- and upper-middle class folks curate a certain image and then protesteth that image much.

Example? Jen Hatmaker’s post on her family’s new reality show on HGTV, where she talks about how chaotic and crazy they all are (“we are doomed, cause we can lay us down some crazy”) and how horrible and wrecked their fixer-upper of a house is and yet, somehow, every person and every room in every photo is nothing less than adorable.

Edith Schaeffer kept quiet about the ‘messiness’ of her life with the well-known teacher and author Francis Schaeffer and presented a highly polished and competent picture of herself to the world. That’s what was acceptable and desirable in her day.

In our day, it seems, we want people to admit to ‘messiness’ but only if can still be picturesque, somehow.

That’s weird to me, and, not to belabor the point, may trivialize real suffering. I’m not calling people’s ‘first-world problems’ unimportant or non-existent. I’m just saying we shouldn’t give credit for being ‘confessional’ and ‘raw’ if what’s being confessed isn’t all that raw, and just allows one to seem quirky and adorable instead of actually messed up.

Otherwise, we’re no better off than we were when we were just keeping up appearances. Only now, we have the pressure to keep up an “honest” and “raw” appearance that’s still cute. (See also: Manic Pixie Dream Girl or, better, Mindy Kaling’s New Yorker piece, “Flick Chicks.”)

#4 The point about the Trader Joe’s frozen dinners and Annie’s Organic boxed mac & cheese was not meant to imply that people who can provide such things have no problems.

Rather, as Emily Matchar pointed out in her very intelligent book Homeward Bound, the pressure on mothers to DIY it all perfectly and picturesquely has meant that for some people, Trader Joe’s frozen food represents failure. My point is that it clearly does not.

#5 Thanks for bearing with me.

Often my blog is a place to work out ideas in draft form. Thanks for helping me think through things a little more carefully!

Is Everyone Losing Weight Without Me?

I’ve always loved books, but for a number of years–okay, for a lot of years–my reading choices have tended toward the serious. And yet few things are more enjoyable for me than curling up with some really funny reading material. And so I picked up this book at the library yesterday and finished it this morning, laughing loudly and inappropriately in the library (I started reading it before I even left the building), in the doctor’s waiting room, and while reading in bed.

I love laughing out loud while reading. It has a hint of hedonism mixed with a dab of Crazy Lady.

What surprised me about the book is how many times Mindy Kaling (perhaps better known as the actress/writer/director who plays Kelly Kapoor on The Office (which, I’m sorry, I don’t really like*) references her weight.

Really? This woman feels like she needs to explain her weight or her looks?

Yes, yes, she does, because Hollywood’s obsession with unearthly skinniness makes normal women unwelcome.

I thought this passage was particularly incisive (as my favorite kind of comedy writing is)–

“Since I am not model skinny, but also not super fat and fabulously owning my hugeness, I fall in that nebulous “normal American woman” size that legions of fashion stylists detest. For the record, I’m a size eight (this week, anyway). Many stylists hate that size, because I think, to them, it shows that I lack the discipline to be an ascetic or the confident sassy abandon to be a total fatty hedonist. They’re like: pick a lane! Just be so enormous that you need to be buried in a piano, and dress accordingly.”

And this one, too–

“My mom’s a doctor but because she came from India and then Africa, where childhood obesity was not a problem, she put no premium on having skinny kids…Part of me wonders if it even made them feel a little prosperous, like Have you seen our overweight Indian child? Do you know how statistically rare this is?”

And then her chapter on ‘Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who are not Real’–


“I am speaking of the gorgeous and skinny heroine who is also a disgusting pig when it comes to food. And everyone […] is constantly telling her to stop eating and being such a glutton. And this actress, this poor skinny actress who so clearly lost weight to play the likeable lead, has to say things like, ‘Shut up you guys! I love cheesecake!'”

It’s great how Mindy lampoons the ridiculous and double minded nature of weight and bodies and dieting in our culture while recognizing that she is enmeshed in that culture too. Because aren’t we all?

*it probably speaks to the quality of the book that I didn’t really have to know much about Mindy Kaling or The Office to find the book hilarious and enjoyable*

Oh. And Happy Groundhog Day!

{I really should tell you about the time Tim and I were stranded with a broken car in Punxsutawney (in Februrary, no less) eating popcorn at the car repair place where they told us it would take 2 days to fix the car, so why didn’t we find a place to stay? We jury-rigged the car ourselves and drove it back to Chicago and then to California, and it never did need to be properly fixed again.}