The Cultural Evolution of Candy Land

My son Graeme, who’s almost 4, is very into Candy Land lately. He’ll play it all by himself, or with his brother, or with me, and he cheats a lot, but whatever; he’s so cute.

Anyway, they were given this new set (dated 2010, Made in China) and I remembered I still had my old Candy Land put away somewhere (dated 1984, Made in USA) and so I pulled them out for a comparison, and was really surprised by what I found.

1984 on the left; 2010 on the right.

2010′s game is so much BUSIER and full of candy than 1984′s. In fact, I find 2010 a bit overwhelming visually, whereas 1984′s seems like a relaxed stroll through villages with distinct characteristics. But okay.

Here’s where things are notably different, right at the beginning–the kids:



Okay, so obviously we’ve had diversity training, but look what else! 1984′s kids are pleasantly rounded, 2010′s kids have clearly taken “Let’s Move!” to heart. Amazing, considering that both the fruits and the nuts of the 1984 game board are a thing of the past, and there’s like 250% more candy portrayed on the 2010 board.

Plumpy (PLUMS! FRUIT! 5-a-day!) has no 2010 counterpart.

Likewise, the Grandma of 1984 had a peanut plantation in her front yard (granted, she turned them into peanut brittle for her siding, but work with me here) whilst Grandma 2010 makes fudge (and she has lost weight):

Grandma 1984

Grandma 2010

Friendly Mr. Candy Cane is gone, replaced by a reminder that men, too, have an idealized muscular form to which they should aspire:


2010. Note how his ice-cream is twice the size of his not insubstantial head.

Even the King has had to slim down:

King, 1984

King, 2010

As have the game pieces:

any guesses which pieces are from 1984, and which from 2010?

The Lollipop Lady has gone from Shirley Temple-esque to otherworldly and waifish:


2010 (look how much longer and thinner she is!)

But the pièce de résistance has to be Frostine, who has been demoted from Queen (1984) to Princess (2010), and has been majorly slimmed down and sexed up in the meantime:



So let’s get this right: portions are doubled, there’s no more fruit or nuts, and yet everyone and everything–even the game pieces!–is/are much, much thinner, while the number of actual Americans who are obese has at least quadrupled since 1984?

Good thing I’m still working on my book revisions. I’m going to have to add a whole chapter on the cultural history of Candy Land.  

(or at least talk about it in my book.)

Glamorous Tuberculosis, Ghastly Cholera, Ordinary Stomach Bugs, and Extraordinary Grace

Tuberculosis seems to have been the disease of choice among 19th century artists and poets.

Yes, the sensitive, intelligent characters in novels and operas of that era always seem to succumb to that particular disease; it was even a bit ‘fashionable.’

As diseases go, it’s a glamorous one, or so suggests the professor in the delightful Open Yale course I recently listened to. It doesn’t cause you to lose control of your bowel functions, as in cholera, or cause your extremities to become gangrenous as in bubonic plague.

Tuberculosis, on the other hand, while every bit as serious and deadly, causes few visible (or odorous) symptoms–other than weight loss.

There’s even some scholarly speculation that ‘thinness’ as an ideal got its start in the Romantic era’s idealization of tubercular patients!

I don’t have any of those frightening diseases (though they still exist, usually taking the lives of people living in extreme poverty) but I’ve been sick with some nasty intestinal ailment the last few days.

Thanks to my dear husband & parents stepping in to help with the children, I’ve been able to get by, which has meant, ahem, just being ill and sleeping.

{And catching up on Downton Abbey in between.}

Spoiler Alert!

{Here’s poor Lavinia, about to die from influenza. And of course her couture nightgown is perfect, as is her hair and makeup. There’s no evidence of unwholesome bodily effluvia.}

Just for fun, I decided to take a picture of me, definitely not about to die, but definitely in the unattractive state of being that my friend Mr. Intestinal Microbe has put me in:

{I had to put it in black and white because “color” was just too scary. And “color” is in scare quotes because my face looks just as gray in both. Otherwise, yeah, that’s me right now. No lace. No makeup. Hair definitely not done. }

Online life–including blogging, social networking, etc.–can be kind of like that preference for tuberculosis over cholera, if you’ll pardon the sick analogy.

Certain kinds of icky are allowed; others are definitely not.

We like a certain measure of grittiness, of ‘reality,’ but, really, if you have to look upon an ill person, who wouldn’t rather see a tuberculosis patient than one with cholera? Glittering eyes, red cheeks, and thinness are comely in their way; uncontrollable diarrhea, not so much.

That’s understandable as far as it goes, I suppose, but golly, I want to get to the point already (and I bet you want me to, also) and the point is this:

Everyone needs to be loved even in the midst of their sickness and brokenness, whether literal, figurative, ‘glamorous,’ or gag-worthy.

Thank God, I suspect that’s just the kind of scandalous grace God extends to us.

{Now I’m going to drink some more fluids and take another nap.}

Am I too thin to say “accept your body”?

Last week, I received a comment on the Audrey Hepburn post–in which I urged that one can be beautiful no matter their size–that gave me something to think about. You can read the comment in full on the original post (here), but this snippet sums up the basic point:

“This is a message that is very lovely, but I have to say…you look beautifully thin in all of your pictures. It seems to me that it is somewhat easier to share the epiphany now your figure is closer to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

I have already responded, and you can read my response in full, but the question implied in the comment has continued to pester me. Would I be as happy/contented with food and my body if I were NOT thin?

This is what I’ve concluded: that THIN does not = the source of my happiness.

(Not to mention, there are PLENTY of ways in which I fail to meet our culture’s standards of beauty. I do believe I actually WEIGH MORE than Audrey Hepburn ever did–and I’m, what, ten inches shorter than she was?! I’ve even got me some visible attributes–low muscle tone, spotty-lookin’ teeth (the front ones are caps), scoliosis, blue sclera, skin that’s thin and easily bruised–of a bona-fide genetic disorder! My “defects” are in my DNA, people!)

But you know? We all carry marks of our brokenness–whether visible or not.

These days, though, I’m pretty much comfortable and content with my body, scars and bumps and all. I have a healthy relationship with food and I’m reasonably active and things like {food/exercise/my body} don’t take up an inordinate amount of my time or my mental space–my contentment is NOT because I’m a certain size, a certain weight, or a certain level on some index.

Here’s the strange thing: my body hasn’t really EVER changed all that dramatically (you know, except for the pregnancies). Yet ten years ago, this body was a torment to me, and I had no idea how to eat without overdoing it or under-eating or just plain feeling guilty all. the. time.

I was terrified of food, terrified because LIKE ALL NORMAL HEALTHY PEOPLE, I liked food. I thought that indifference to food was ideal, and all interest in food was gluttonous, possibly sinful, and would make me fat. Thing is, it’s kinda hard to avoid eating. So I would eat, but because I felt so disconnected from my body and my appetite, I never could seem to feel contented and satisfied. I was also terrified that I would lose control and eat too much, which happened too, sometimes, because, again, I was so disconnected.

Now here’s an important point. I don’t think that this way of thinking is particular to me or in any way unique. Rather, I think it is a way of thinking that is particular to a consumerist culture. This is not to evade responsibility for my own thoughts and actions, but instead, to put those in a bigger context.

Think of all the ads for weight loss products and programs and gym memberships and everything else. They always carry with them the promise (the lie) that YOU YOU YOU can change your body–that it’s raw material for shaping any way you desire–if only you’ll buy this, do that, have enough control, pray enough, or whatever. And think of food advertising and the general culture surrounding food today: it’s all about having it YOUR way and making things suit YOUR taste and shaping YOUR identity through what you consume (I AM a vegetarian, I AM an organic consumer, a dieter, an overeater, or whatever.)

And think of all the cultural baggage surrounding eating and dieting and thinness. This quote from Harriet Brown, author of Brave Girl Eating, a memoir of her daughter’s anorexia, seems to me particularly true of our culture:

“We…have fallen for the notion that food is a regrettable necessity. As if the ideal, the holy grail we are all working toward, is to do without food altogether—and as if we not only should but could attain this state, were we good enough, determined enough, strong enough. As if that’s what we should want.”

But you know what?

All of this stuff? It’s very ME focused. And THAT–not overeating, not being overly fastidious, and certainly NOT loving food–is the essential definition of gluttony: your stomach gets in the way of loving God and your neighbor.

I no longer see my body as a raw material to be shaped by my own willpower with the help of consumer products–I see it as the handiwork of a wise and wonderful Creator.

And I no longer feel guilty admitting that I LOVE food!–Because I see it as a gift from God and the fruit of rich and complex histories involving both nature and culture.

Am I only able to feel this way because I’m a certain size and shape? I don’t think so. Truly, I no longer buy the lie that only THIN is beautiful. I’ve known too many truly beautiful people who didn’t conform to any standard of beauty in any way.

And I’ve known too well the ugliness–within myself, an ugly self-centeredness–that comes from an obsession with thinness (and looks in general). If God had seen fit to build me big instead of small–or if the years see me growing rounder (which they probably will)–I really hope my message would (will) be just the same:

~Your body is a gift, but who YOU are does not = your body.

~Your beauty does not depend on your looks.

~Food is a gift meant to be eaten–WITH JOY.

{Of course there’s more to my story than this, but I’m saving other parts for other days. Meanwhile, Thank you for your comments. I welcome them eagerly and treasure each one.}