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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Tag: media

17 Apr

Could a patch make you feel more beautiful? Does it matter?

Current Events No Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

“I’ve been spending so much time thinking that if I could just get myself to like the outside, to feel satisfied with the external, then I would feel peace on the inside. But I realize that hasn’t work,” she said, shaking her head slightly and as her eyes shifted down. “Maybe it’s really about finding peace on the inside first, and the outside will follow. Maybe that’s the key to feeling beautiful.”

Her peer looked at her earnestly, her shoulders lifting into a shrug, and replied, “Or maybe when you feel peace on the inside, you just don’t care about beauty so much.”

I smiled at the reply, noting that I couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s exactly right, I thought. When you feel peace, there are more important things that how I look today.

And I think that sort of sums up my feelings about the latest Dove project. If you haven’t seen the video, under-cover Doves give unsuspecting women a “beauty patch” that they tell them will make them more beautiful. After a few days, the women report not noticing any changes. But soon they say that they are feeling different, more beautiful. They even notice how their own behavior changes as a result of this sudden “beauty.”

(Watch it here.)

Of course, the patch is a sham and the moral of the story is that there is nothing external that can make you more beautiful. Beauty comes from within. La de da.

Okay, okay — when I first saw the spot, I got a little choked up. I think seeing any woman start to feel better about herself gets me a bit emotional. Seeing the women’s reactions to hearing that they didn’t need a patch to help them feel more confident? There were truly touching moments.

But something about the whole thing still leaves me feeling… conflicted… Maybe it’s the fact that these women believed themselves to be putting on a patch — assumably of medication — and didn’t question at the outset what “chemicals” were seeping into their bodies. I realize this happens every day with things like diet pills and special creams that are purchased with similar intent. But it still weirds me out.

Then there’s the fact that the project was created by Dove, a company, like any other hygeine and beauty company, who profits from women feeling that they need their products to feel beautiful and better. I’m not dissing Dove here, specifically. I think they make good products, and I like their soap. But my cynicism, usually buried deep, starts to emerge when I watch this. So you’re telling me that women don’t need anything external to feel good? Well then your sales just dropped… Oh, you want us to still buy your sixteen products though to feel good? I see.

And last, I think I’m a little tired of the message that if we feel good on the inside, we’ll be beautiful on the outside, for the reasons stated above. I think if we feel truly good on the inside, we give importance to things other than how we look on the outside. That’s not to say that anything is wrong with wanting to look and feel beautiful. It’s just what I notice when I think about the truly happy and content people that I know. They aren’t slobs, but they don’t pay a whole lot of heed to their appearance either. It’s not scientific fact, just an observation.

But I’m curious what you think… Do you like the Dove ad? Did you tear up at first like me? What do you make of it?

09 Feb

Why The Biggest Loser is Dangerous (and has nothing to do with Rachel…)

Advocacy 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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There’s a delicate balance in discussing the case of The Biggest Loser contestant Rachel Frederickson’s extreme weight loss. Commentators around the country — world? — run the risk of focusing too much on Rachel herself and the 155 pounds that she shed to be crowned the TBL champion. Around the internet this week we’ve been bombarded with claims that Rachel is “anorexic,” “has an eating disorder,” or is, “disgusting.”

I’m always curious when I hear the popular media report that someone is “anorexic.” I wonder when the “anorexic” person sat in that journalist’s office and reviewed the DSM-5 criteria, and where exactly they received their graduate degree in psychopathology. You get my drift… The fact is that assigning who has and eating disorder and who does not based on physical appearance is a dangerous practice. It’s harmful not only to those individuals being diagnosed, but to everyone with eating disorders.

Unfortunately, many of the writers who have addressed the TBL finale have fallen into the trap of trying to diagnose Rachel. The real issue, though, is The Biggest Loser itself. It makes me sad and frustrated that it took Rachel’s win to shine a spotlight on the freak show that is this competition. (It wasn’t bad enough, apparently, that they put their abhorrent antics to adolescents last year…)

We’ve be hearing for years that The Biggest Loser promotes extraordinarily dangerous weight-loss practices.  Contestants have reported exercising working out (for eight hours per day in some cases) while significantly injured, prohibited from consuming doctor-prescribed substances, and eating far below even the minimum amount of calories to sustain a person. Worse, contestants have reported that they were treated as sub-human, humiliated and shamed throughout the competition (go read Golda Poretsky’s expose — parts I, II, and III — now if you want more gut-wrenching details).

As angered as I am about what I consider to be human rights violations on the part of the TBL machine, what makes me most angry about the whole enterprise is the fact that they are duping the American public. They are systematically lying to the masses and the result is weight stigma and the promotion of unhealthy behaviors. The lies range from telling the public that a contestant lost X number of pounds in a “week” when it is anywhere from 5 to 14 days (and thus setting up dangerous and unrealistic expectations for home weight loss) to claiming the contestants are given a stabilizing  network of support, which is then pulled out dramatically when the cameras are turned off, according to a former trainer.

The show touts health, wellness, and the just how HAPPY you’ll feel when you’re THIN! But what’s behind the curtain is something much darker. Like most of the media, TBL is an enterprise dedicated to ratings and product endorsement. Does Rachel Frederickson’s weight loss concern them? I’m inclined to think not given the show’s history, and would imagine that producers are eating up (no pun intended…) the astronomical attention given to the show since the finale.

So if you’re as disgusted as I am, what is there to do? There are letters to write and petitions to sign, but the most useful thing we can do with our time and energy is to shift our tube time to another program. Don’t get counted in the show’s statistics, even if you’re watching is disgust. Don’t buy into the TBL enterprise with all of their merchandise. And most importantly, don’t get sold the idea that this kind of weight loss is realistic, sustainable, or healthy.

What was your reaction to The Biggest Loser finale? 

03 Feb

Trigger Warning: Are These Warnings Really Helpful?

Ideas to Consider 3 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

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{image credit :: World Bank Photo Collection}

Amanda Marcotte, a writer over at Slate, recently 2013 the “Year of the Trigger Warning.” She points out that trigger warnings have proliferated across the blogosphere in the past year, expanding their reach in the type of sites on which they appear and content from which they attempt to protect readers. Marcotte highlights the outrage that was met by Shonda Rhimes when the show she created, Scandal, failed to provide a warning to viewers of a rape that was depicted on the show. Rhimes eventually acknowledged the purported mistake and tweeted, “I agree that a trigger warning would have been a very good and responsible thing.”

So what’s a trigger warning? While they’ve been used widely in the feminist blogosphere, trigger warnings aren’t particularly common in more mainstream media. They refer to the act of alerting a reader or viewer of material that could be potentially evocative and create distress. They often appear briefly but boldly at the start of a post or other media and list the specific content that might be disturbing to some individuals. Example: [Trigger Warning: Suicide, Rape]

Some suggest that trigger warnings are more common among feminist writers and artists because there is an increased attunement in these communities to the pervasive effects of trauma. The idea, it seems, is that these warnings allow individuals to make more informed and conscious decisions about what they are prepared to ingest. If someone has recently gotten clean from drugs, for instance, they may choose not to read an article with detailed descriptions of substance abuse.

Trigger warnings are all too common in the eating disorder community as well, at least in the community that is recovery-focused. There seems to be an expectation of curtesy among individuals with eating disorders and those who write about them to alert readers if the content could be disturbing or “triggering” to others.

But there remain a couple fundamental issues when it comes to trigger warnings that, to me, feel unresolved.

First, what does the term “trigger” even mean? Is it a noun or verb or both? It strikes me as an interesting word choice that has evolved to have so much meaning. The first definition listed by Merriam Webster for the word “trigger” refers to the lever that one finds on a gun to fire it. I think there’s a bit of irony there in using a word that refers to force and violence when talking about something evoking difficult or unwanted feelings.

The second definition reads, “something that causes something else to happen.” And this is where I struggle with the concept of triggers. From my vantage point, I see the idea of “triggers” referring to things that evoke strong emotions in the “triggered” person. Perhaps other uncomfortable experiences like re-enactments or flashbacks could occur to.

But I often hear the idea of triggers being used to refer to something that, like the definition says, “caused something else to happen.” But the truth is, it takes a multitude of factors for any given behavior or event to happen. Specifically, something that “triggers” one person to engage in self-harm may have no impact on someone else.

The chain events is more complicated than the idea of “triggers” allows. Take eating disorders, for examples. We sometimes use the analogy of eating disorders being like a gun. Genetics shape and mold the gun, the environment loads the gun, and certain events (e.g. bullying, dieting) pull the trigger. But if there was no gun to start with, or if it hadn’t been loaded, pulling the trigger would be impossible or non-eventful.

I personally feel that there may be an over-reliance on this concept. I think it over-simplifies the situation and externalizes the root of the feelings (e.g. “Seeing her eat that pizza triggered me to binge,” rather than considering what you were feeling prior to seeing her eat that, how hungry you were, the availability of binge food, etc.).

Back on the issue of trigger warnings in media, the other issue that is yet unresolved is the very basic question of whether these warnings are actually helpful or effective. For one, I think many people who may be most vulnerable to content (and who could potentially benefit from avoiding reading the post) are often the same people who will read it. This is part because there’s the fact that we are all a little rebellious (who doesn’t at least want to press that button that says not to press it…).

This is also because these are individuals who are emotionally struggling and often in need of support and relating. Personally, whenever I’ve struggled with something difficult, I’ve found myself seeking out stories of others going through the same thing. It made me feel less alone. Misery loves company, after all… So when they come across an article about something they personally have experienced (e.g. death of a friend, physical abuse, miscarriage), they may be more inclined to read it, even if they may be too emotionally vulnerable to do so.

Spending so much time recently turning this idea over and over in my head, I did a review of the research. I figured that that would help me better assess the utility of trigger warning. But it turns out that there’s really nothing out there that I could find addressing this issue. Basically, we don’t know if and how trigger warnings impact readers or viewers. I’d actually love to start doing some research on this, as it’s fascinating to me.

So we are left to rely on our own intuition. It could be that trigger warnings become a slippery slope of individualized censorship, or they could be protective of individuals who are too vulnerable in the moment for exposure to certain things.

I don’t have a firm answer, as I think this issue isn’t black and white and I like to consider what the data tells us before being more decisive on an issue (and there’s none! at least not that I’ve found — if you can, please let me know!).

I will say that I fear trigger warnings might be an example of falsely satisfying our own sense of altruism but not actually helping people. One writer had some interesting questions that he asked about trigger warnings, but summed up that he supposed they couldn’t harm anyone. I think it’s possible that they could (even while helping others). Perhaps perpetuating the idea of “triggers” could be harmful in and of itself, as it takes away from the complexity of given issues. Perhaps it gives us a false sense of security, or even keeps people in a pattern of avoiding things that would ultimately be helpful to have exposure to and work through (with a trained therapist, in many cases, of course).

But what do you think? Should writers include trigger warnings? Have they been helpful for you? 

13 Jan

Breaking News: Obesity Causes Head Loss

Advocacy No Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

A perusal of headlines in the popular media reveals that being obese causes a host of dire health consequences – everything from diabetes to heart disease to cancer. And now we can add to that panic-inducing list head loss.

Yes, head loss. This frightening condition is apparently extremely common among individuals of larger body sizes, based on the frequency it’s depicted in the media. By my estimation, almost 95% of fat people are headless these days.

If you have a larger body size, beware. You might lose your head at any moment! If you’re particularly unfortunate (or, let’s be honest, really gluttonous – we all know weight has everything to do with what you eat), you might even lose your neck, shoulders, and chest as well. You might be left with only a bulging belly attached to your legs.

It’s a wonder that all these headless fat people are walking around. Based on the media images, it would seem that most of the headless spend their time sitting at greasy diners with overflowing plates of burgers and fries in front of them. There are a few that are apparently able to walk, however. These are the ones that we see on the news reports shuffling down the busy street, dressed in either baggy frocks or too-tight shorts. Either way, their lack of a head clearly prevented them from seeing what they were putting on this morning.

This is public health crisis, people! We can’t let one more fat person lose their head due to their crappy eating habits and complete unwillingness to engage in physical activity. We have to save the headless fat people!

I wonder what would happen if the media was no longer allowed to disembody individuals of a larger sizes by cutting off their heads? Would we realize that these “diseases” that we are discussing are actually people? People with hopes, dreams, careers, families, and… faces?

Depicting larger people as nameless, faceless blobs is one of the most dehumanizing acts that the media perpetrates on these individuals. The world internalizes these images in developing our perception of reality, and thus these headless fat people are bred into our consciousness. They become what we equate with the idea of “obesity.”

It follows that if the obese don’t have faces or, well, humanity, then we can treat them however we choose. These manufactured blobs become un-real, almost cartoon-like characters, and suddenly we are dealing not with a person, but with an image of what we have been taught to fear.

We ought to be both afraid and outraged. Afraid of the implications of dehumanizing one another. We don’t have to look far behind us in history to see the horrific consequences of seeing other human beings as less than human. Outraged because this is one of the least contested forms of discrimination.  This affects not just those of us who are larger in size or love those who are, but us as a community, as a society.

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