Friday, November 5, 2010

Portia de Rossi Tells Oprah, Ellen About Life at 82 Lbs., and BlogHer Urges Owning Your Beauty: Who Wants to Heal?, a women's blogging website, with help from, is running a series about owning your own beauty that features stories and pictures from ordinary women. That's a praise-worthy project. If I were younger, I'd ask to participate because I, like many other women, struggle with self and body image baggage, but who wants to hear about an older woman's emotional struggles with self-image unless she's saying she's fully recovered, right? People expect that with age comes wisdom, that some sagely magic overcomes you and you never ever again internalize self-destructive messages.

For a variety of reasons, I have trouble opening up these days publicly about inner turmoil with deep roots. You have to know when to risk facing darkness. For me, I have to choose a time when self-examination won't sink me, conjure my Sylvia Plath side, and since I'm in no position to take time off and spend weeks with a therapist, I'm disinclined to dig at the core of self-affliction right now.

When I was younger, I was willing to talk more about emotional pain. And make no mistake, to own your own beauty you must first wade through some emotional pain. If after being raised in a culture that values thinness, youth, and perfection over inner peace you have never, meaning not even once, experienced the prick of self-doubt about your looks, then I'll wager you're someone who is genetically predisposed to positivity or you have a knack for repression that's let you forget your awkward years. If not that, then perhaps you're attractive enough to have never been rejected based on your appearance. That's nice. Count your blessings.

As I was saying, when I was younger I was more willing to talk about pain, I think, because I was puffed up with idealistic dreams. I had higher hopes then for the 30-minute-sitcom solution to self-loathing--you know, just reveal the monster, laugh at it, and it goes away. But always I was more likely to address psychic slime from a safe distance, to speak to it in poetry, and even then I felt pressure to reveal less by putting a positive spin on the problem. See the poem "Fat Is." That's my issue, the shame of obesity, and so, I'm one of those people who feels sexy and pretty at a lower weight and like an ugly loser at a higher weight. Therefore, when I'm having trouble with losing weight the way I'm troubled now, I'm no damned fun. I can't play the role of the jolly fat lady.

I've also addressed these kinds of issues in fiction about childhood (Sunday Dinner), but the long, true personal narrative about how I feel about my physical appearance or a realistic picture showing my face and a belly of stretch marks? No. You might read this and think I'm sharing a personal narrative now, but I'm not. I don't have the courage for that. These are not the words that tell all and bare the soul. These are abstract, distanced blah blah words broadcast from the supposed cynic's cloak. These are what another writer I know calls "top of mind" words.

I'm reluctant to spill the deeper stuff because whenever I've broken down with a group in a face-to-face setting, my experience has been that people get all concerned, run at you with the hugs and tissues, but later, they go off and talk behind your back about your emotional instability. Someone describes you as "a drama queen" seeking attention. Others discuss your stupidity and the lameness of losing your head before a crowd, and they whisper buzz phrases such as "TMI," and eventually these opinions all come back to you by way of those gossipy "little birds."

Those birds tell a lot of people a lot of mean stuff when you're not around and if you put it in writing on a blog, God help you. You've archived the bird shit that pops up later and bites you in places like work or in a divorce hearing. I speak from personal experience here on the later, court. Being strong enough to share means being strong enough to take what people say after the sharing's done.

The fallout after sharing has never helped me, making whatever healing that reportedly comes through sharing incomplete. The aftermath of sharing has only made me feel more like I should climb in bed, turn off all lights, and pull the covers over my head. For others, though, sharing seems to work, to help. I'm in graduate school now taking rhetoric courses and reading theorists who swear the personal narrative works like Gilead's balm.

So, I applaud BlogHer and Operation Beautiful and the talented photographer Karen Walrond for trying to "change the conversation" about women and our perceptions of beauty. Part of their message is "it is never too late to learn to love one's self and influence the lives of those around us." Seems like that should be a message for me, and it is, but like I said, I can't do that publicly right now. Maybe I'll do those positive affirmations recommended by Operation Beautiful in a private space at a quiet time, but mostly I think I'll take heed of research on neurogenesis. I've been thinking lately that the better route is to reinvent the self, to take practical steps in raising up a new you and purge the demons that way and to do so without advertisement. I'll advertise the cure after it's worked because these feelings are like a long, love-affair where self-doubt, like lovers' passions, comes and goes.

But the rest of you, please go. Do. Get a healing now! Don't be like the me who writes in this moment.

I see that this pressure to look like a perfect dream rips through America and the world. It's a disease. It's a cancer eating its way from women to men. I've heard my son speak of being self-conscious about not having the buff male body promoted on television and in magazines. My daughter's self image is stronger, and I suspect her being hard of hearing (she wears hearing aids) may have helped there. Natural deafness has prevented her from hearing some of the crazy talk that makes us crazy.

It seems that to love our children to wholeness, we must work daily and desperately against Spiritus Mundi, praying that we too may be exorcised. In my son's case, I rage against rise of the Adonis Complex. After seeing the Rocky Horror Picture Show episode of Glee in which the character Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) confronts his body-image issues, I know it's not just my son feeling this pressure. I doubt a show as successful as Glee would broach the subject unless they knew it would resonate with teen viewers. And I wish someone had raged against Madison Avenue's Venus for me when I was a child, a teen, a young woman.

Even the Beautiful People Feel Ugly These Days

The Glee episode brings me to one celebrity's story. While BlogHer and Operation Beautiful are giving ordinary women the opportunity to share their feelings about their looks, a chilling story runs in MSM news this week about actress Portia de Rossi, Ellen DeGeneres's wife, and her battle with a negative body-image and an eating disorder. The video below has clips of her talk with Ellen, whose love she credits with helping her heal.

The CNN report talks a lot about the actress emotionally telling her story on Ellen's show, but Portia was also on Oprah earlier in the week telling Winfrey and audience about how she was once 82 pounds and thought that was beautiful. When people who cared about her told her that she was too thin, she perceived them to be giving her a compliment, and happily considered, "Who can bee too thin?" But her life was at risk at that weight.

Featured in the latest edition of People Magazine, she says:
"But at the time, I thought, 'Okay, my arms look awful so I should cover them up, but my legs look pretty okay now," says the actress, 37. "I didn't think I was crazy to only eat 300 calories a day. That made perfect sense to me."
She says, according to CNN and the Daily Mail, that as she grew to feel more comfortable about herself with Ellen, she reached a weight of 168 pounds.

Portia connects some of her issues with negative self image, anorexia, and food to trying to hide her sexual orientation. She's sharing her stories on talk shows because she's recently published a book, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain.

Related at BlogHer and WSATA:

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