Monthly Archives: August 2009

Purity balls and sexy virgins

Working in a bookstore is hard for a bibliophile.  It’s even worse to work in the receiving room, seeing and touching every book before it gets put out for the customers.

This is what I do.  Often, I tell my friends that working in receiving is like Christmas every day.  I open a box and there is a brand-new book, begging to be flipped through.

Now, since I have to open a lot (and I mean a lot) of boxes, plus get other tasks done, I cannot stop and look through every book that piques my interest.  Instead, I set aside anything I want to take a closer look at when I’m off the clock.  (And, yes, I often make a snap judgment on the book’s cover, but really, who doesn’t?)

Last March, while working, I opened a box and found a brand-new title written in stark white against a black background: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti.  I don’t buy as many books as one may think I do (that doesn’t mean I don’t want them!) but this one I knew I had to.  I knew before I even opened to page one that I would want to mark passages as I read them and make comments in the margins.  Sure enough, that is exactly what I did.

The bulk of my reading is done in the morning before work.  I sit at the dining room table, sipping at my coffee, reading and slowly waking up.  The mornings that I read The Purity Myth I could have skipped the coffee altogether because the book had me so fired up.

From chapter one, Valenti argues how the idea of virginity and the expectation of staying pure until marriage is detrimental to young women (because, Valenti points out on several occasions, it is up to the female to be the “gatekeepers” of purity because boys will be boys and cannot help themselves).

Man, I wish I could portray the disgust in my voice.

Throughout the book, Valenti relentlessly argues against different societal ideals, from abstinence-only education, to idolizing famous virgins, to purity balls and so much more.

Take, for example, Jessica Simpson and Brittany Spears.  Both publically declared she was a virgin and was waiting until marriage.  Yet both were made up to look sexy in tight shirts or shorts.  Who remembers the media coverage of Brittany Spears when her boobs grew in (or, as the media argued, were put in)?  *in my best hick impression* “She’s a virgin, folks, and she’s a good girl waiting to get married before giving it up, but check out that rack.  Think that’s real?”  In the societal eye, what could possibly be more sexy than a virgin?

How ass-backwards is that?

Valenti’s description of purity balls shook me to no end, though.  Growing up in a household where we didn’t practice or even talk religion sheltered me (thankfully) from purity balls.  At these lavish events, young women pledge to their fathers to wait until marriage for sex.  In turn, the fathers pledge to “hang onto” their daughters’ virginities until a proper husband comes along.  At that point, the fathers give the virginities to the husbands, not even back to their daughters to give to their husbands themselves.  Some of these balls even use a little pink box as a symbol of the daughters’ virginities (because, as Valenti points out in the first chapter, virginity is pure myth – pardon the pun).  The fathers take the little pink boxes (ugh) and pledge to hold onto them.  What is most shocking to me, though, was that sometimes girls as young as six participate in these balls.  Who, at the ripe age of six, knows what her feelings will be about sex as she grows?  Who at six even knows that the concept of virginity even is?

It makes me sick.  This is a blatant portrayal of how men control women’s bodies, how they have “ownership” over them and we willingly (willingly!) give it to them.  Are we not free-thinking humans in our own right?

The absolute worst part about purity balls, though: they are federally funded.

There’s so much more to the book and I can’t write about all of it here.  It is a book worth buying, even during a recession, because it gets its readers thinking and gearing them up to take action.

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Posted by on August 21, 2009 in Literature, Rants


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Refusing book sales

If pharmacists have the right to refuse to fill a birth control prescription because it is against his morals or religion, then do I have the right to refuse the sale of a book that is against my morals or religion?

Most may laugh at this question, but I am completely serious.  How come the “conscience laws” only apply to the medical profession?  Do only nurses, doctors, and pharmacists have morals?  Lowly booksellers such as myself have a conscience and, just like some medical professionals don’t morally agree with every drug out there, I do not morally agree with every book out there.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of women being refused birth control at the pharmacy.  Some of us have even heard of married mothers being refused a hysterectomy at a Catholic hospital after giving birth to her fourth child.  But imagine if the same laws that protect the medical field in these scenarios (and, sadly, not the women) would also protect the bookseller over the customer.

Today* marks the release of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s latest book: In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms.  While I have nothing against stay-at-home moms (I was brought up by one), I don’t agree with anything Schlessinger has to say.  So, why do I have to help sell her book?

I can imagine it now:  I stand at customer service, just doing my job, when a woman comes up and asks for the book.  This is how the conversation would normally go:

Customer: Do you have that new book by Dr. Laura?  I don’t remember the name of it.

Awesome Bookseller: Yes, we do.  It is called In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms.  It’s up front; let me show you.    [Walks customer to display and hands her the book]  It’s even 20% off.  Is there anything else I can help you with?

Customer: No, thank you.  This was all I wanted.

Now, imagine if you will what would happen if I were protected by the “conscience laws”:

Customer: Do you have that new book by Dr. Laura?  I don’t remember the name of it.

Bookseller: It’s called In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms.

Customer: That’s right!  Do you have it?

Bookseller: Yes.

Customer (getting a little irritated): Could you show me where it is?

Bookseller: Sorry, but I don’t agree with the book and I therefore refuse to fill your request.  Have a good day!

Imagine the shock and horror on the customer’s face if this occurred.  At least the bookseller was being honest.  She could have, like many pharmacists do, lied and said that the book was not in stock.**

Again, many of you would probably find this laughable.  It’s just a book!  Who cares?  Well, what if it were just one genre of book?  What if booksellers were allowed to refuse sales of sexuality books?

The store in which I work has a huge (pardon the pun) section on sex and sexuality (and in a conservative little town, none-the-less).  At least once a week I walk by to find a man, usually white-haired, looking at one of the books, and a bit of a boner showing.  I am no prude so I have no problem selling sex books.  But there are plenty of people out there who do:

Customer (young woman): I am looking for the Kama Sutra.  Do you have it?

Bookseller: Are you married?

Customer (taken aback): What does that have to do with anything?

Bookseller: I’ll show you where the Kama Sutra is once you answer the question.

Customer: Well, no, I’m not married.

Bookseller: I’m sorry.  I can’t sell you the book.  Sex is only for marriage.

Now, I want you to look at all these little scenarios I’ve laid out.  Seriously look at them.  Do you find it absurd?  Why?  Do you think that booksellers and other retailers have the right to refuse to sell something that is against his/her morals?  Why or why not?  If they cannot, then should the medical community?

I know where I stand.  Do you?

*I wrote this piece on April 7, 2009.

**In 2005, Dan Gransinger, a pharmacist in Arizona, wrote a letter to the editor of The Arizona Republic and flat out said that pharmacists who do not believe in dispensing Emergency Contraception should lie and say they are out of stock so that the woman would be forced to go elsewhere.

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Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Rants


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Friction is my friend

High school sucked.  Always has, always will.  But one week every year was especially worse than the rest.  It was roller skating week in gym.

I never really learned to roller skate, not even to this date – I probably never will as I have a fear of falling on my ass.  When I was in elementary school I tried to learn.  My family owned only one pair of skates.  I don’t know where they came from as I don’t remember ever asking for them and my sister never skated.  Still, we had them, tucked away in the garage, behind the rags we used to wax the cars.  About once a year I got the urge to strap them on and learn to skate.

After lacing them tight around my ankles, I would get a surge of confidence that this time, I would make it.  Carefully, I would grip the edge of the storage unit, conveniently placed by the step upon which I sat, and attempted to stand.  This was actually the easiest part for me as there was a mat under the step.  Friction was my friend then.  Once standing, I would take a tentative step onto the concrete of the garage floor, still gripping the storage unit.  My mind raced with all the advice that friends had given me over the years.  Bend your knees.  Don’t lean forward.  Keep your back straight.  Balance your weight.

One skate on the mat, one on the concrete.  Praying that this time it would work, the second skate made its way next to its partner.  My left arm swung out in space, looking for something to grasp and coming up empty.  One hundred pounds pressing down on eight wheels on frictionless concrete – the numbers weren’t in my favor, even if I bent my knees.  I tried to balance my weight but as soon as I moved one way to balance, the skates responded by moving, even ever so slightly, causing me to shift my weight the other way.  But then the skates would respond to that and slip even more.  This lasted just a few more seconds, until I found myself sitting on the garage floor with a bruised butt.

So one could understand my hesitation to get up in front of my classmates and skate.  If I were popular, I could have written it off, telling everyone that I was too cool to do something that a second grader did.  But I wasn’t popular.  Far from it.  I hung out with the people in band.  I wasn’t even in band, but all my friends were.  Ergo, I was on the bottom rung of the high school social ladder.

Five days every school year, each period gym class (both boys’ and girls’) piled into the bus and trekked across town to the roller rink.  There I would sit in the arcade and watch as my classmates skated around and around, making it look as if it were as natural as walking.  All week I had to sit there, forbidden from even playing pinball, feeling like a loser and wishing that I could just go home.  The gym teacher, knowing that I couldn’t skate and flat out refused to even try (why embarrass myself further?) would just give me a bad grade for the week.  I gladly accepted it.

Junior year was different.  The gym teacher made a deal with me.  “Just once around the rink,” she told me, “and you get an ‘A’ for the week.”  Now, it may seem like a bad idea, but the two long sides of the rink had hand rails and I would be allowed to use them.  There was also a half wall along one of the shorter sides of the rink, which I could also easily grip.  But that pesky short wall on the far side of the rink was as smooth as silk, with absolutely nothing to help me stay off my ass.

Upon hearing the offer, I weighed my options.  One short wall, some embarrassment, and an ‘A’ or looking on as everyone else chatting and having fun, bored stiff out of my mind.  I may have turned down the offer is some of the girls in my class hadn’t come up and offered to help me across that smooth wall.  Not only would I have help, but they were sincerely sympathetic and – even better – part of the popular crowd.  Even if I fell on my ass they could protect me from everyone laughing.  (Unlike how the movies depict popular girls, in my school they weren’t vindictive or mean.  I also was in a few after-school activities with them and while we didn’t hang out outside of school, we were still friendly to each other and here they were supporting me – figuratively and literally.)

So I accepted the offer and the three of us went, albeit slowly, onto the skating room floor.  One stood to my left, one behind me, and with my right hand I gripped the railing with all my might.  I bent my knees.  I leaned forward to balance my weight, then back to counterbalance.  Slowly and with much hesitation, I made my way around the rink.  I did fall a few times, but the girls were there for me, helping me back up.  The smooth wall was still difficult to cross, even with the help that I had.  The last few feet of that wall, after having fallen down, I stayed down and crawled the rest of the way until I could reach up and grasp the railing.  I probably looked as stupid as I felt but at this point the three of us were laughing at how ridiculous this all was.

Twenty minutes later, I was back at the beginning where the teacher stood, watching as I clumsily made my way around the rink, flanked by classmates.  She may have said that she was proud of my effort, but I don’t actually remember.  I sat down, now back on carpeted flooring, relieved that the whole ordeal was over and that the rest of the week would be spent in this spot, safely on the other side of that half wall, watching my classmates.

The next year I had a different gym teacher and she didn’t strike a bargain with me, but let me be on the sidelines.  But I was comforted by something that I didn’t have the other three years: Jake, one of the popular boys and who was in the same gym class, also sat on the sidelines.  He didn’t know how to skate either!  I felt like a weight had been lifted off me.  If someone popular didn’t know how to skate, no one would make fun of him and (hopefully) wouldn’t make fun of me!  So that week I not only watched my classmates skate, but also watched as the pretty girls would skate up to that half wall against which Jake was leaning and start flirting with him.  They didn’t care that he couldn’t join them on the floor.  He was still cute and they still wanted him and in that fact, I felt a little more confident and okay with the fact that I didn’t know how to skate.

And to this date, I’m still okay with it.

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Posted by on August 11, 2009 in About me


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On the fence about abortion? You won’t be anymore.

For the longest time, I’ve gone back and forth over whether I’m pro-choice or pro-life.  At first I sat on the fence.  “Well, it’s okay if the woman was raped or it was incest.”  Looking back, I think I was afraid of the conflict and to voice my true opinions.  Then I was strictly pro-choice.  “A man (read: white man) cannot tell a woman what to do with her body!”  I still firmly believe this.  Then I wavered over to the pro-life side.  “I’m a vegetarian.  If meat is murder, then so is an abortion.”  While I still believe this, one thing is for sure: after reading Cristina Page’s How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, I will never align myself with the pro-life side.

While the book does talk about abortion to a fair extent, it talks more about preventing the need for abortion, stopping or reducing the amounts of unwanted pregnancies, and providing comprehensive sex education and health care, among other things.  Page’s thesis is that the pro-choice movement has done more to reduce the need for abortion than the pro-life side, who works toward stopping people from having sex if its purpose is not for creation.

In every chapter Page presents a testimony to the different ways the pro-life movement is fighting to completely stop anyone who is even remotely thinking about having sex for fun.  Page starts with the horrifying cases of women going to get their birth control prescription filled only to be turned down by a righteous pharmacist who is against abortions.  This is completely absurd and Page backs up my feelings toward this.  First of all, what pharmacist is to say what is best for this woman?  That is what her doctor is for.  Maybe she is getting birth control pills because she has had heavy, irregular periods and terrible cramps for the past 10 years and the pill will help alleviate the pain and control the timing and flow of her period.  This woman may very well be waiting until she is married to have sex, but the righteous pharmacist just jumps to the conclusion that the pill is for pleasure and not at all for medical reasons.  Second, the pill does not abort a fetus.  It is scientifically impossible for it to do so.  What it does do is help prevent pregnancy, but does not terminate a pregnancy should one occur.  Unfortunately, as Page points out, some pharmacists (and other right-winged extremists) do not see a difference: preventing a pregnancy is the same as killing a child that God has created.  If you are on the pill and having sex that is not pro-creation, you are obstructing God’s plan and are therefore evil.

Another chapter includes why even condoms are bad, according to the right-winged extremists who, incidentally make up statistics about the failure of condoms in order to scare kids into thinking it isn’t safe to use.  Ironically, what ends up happening is that kids think that it is pointless to wear a condom and then have sex without one, which severely raises the risk of an unwanted pregnancy and the need for abortion.  This also ties in with the abstinence-only sex education that W so widely promotes.  Our children are only being taught one thing: wait until marriage.  So those who don’t wait (and what a staggering statistic that is) don’t know what the phrase “safe sex” means, again raising the risk of unwanted pregnancy and abortion.  Should it solely be the school’s responsibility to teach sex?  No.  Parents need to get involved, too, but many parents are too afraid to approach their children about this so if the only information these kids are getting is from the school, and the school does not provide them with what effective birth control is (ie: how to wear a condom properly) then they’re going to just have sex anyway.  Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the people who wait until they’re married.  But I’m a realist and know that not everyone will wait.  I also firmly believe that to cut back on the amount of STDs and teenage pregnancies today, we need to be telling our children everything there is out there on sex, not just, “Ignore those raging hormones.  They’ll go away in about 20-30 years.”

The scariest chapter (they were all quite terrifying to me), was how the pro-life movement in America has drastically changed how people live and are treated in countries all around the world.  The most staggering story was how one American-based group comprised of just six people stopped $34 million in funding to UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund, formally United Nations Fund for Population Assistance) who, among other things, provides safe health care for new mothers and infants in third world countries.  By getting the president’s attention with fraudulent accusations, the small group Population Research Institute changed thousands of people’s lives.  One calculation was that $34 million could have prevented “4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant deaths” (page 138) world wide each year.

To this date I still go back and forth in my head as to whether I’m for or against abortion.  Perhaps you do, too, or you know you are one or the other.  Wherever you stand on the debate, make sure you know you are behind it a hundred percent.  If you’re pro-life, be sure you are also against sex outside of the marriage, comprehensive sex education, and many, many other things that would prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions in the first place.  Take a look at this book and decide whether you can stand for all of that when you say you are pro-life.  Before I read this book I thought I could say I was pro-life, but seeing what pro-life really stands for, I will not say that any more.  I’m going to say I’m pro-alternatives and pro-education.  Ask me if I’m against abortion and I’ll tell you that we need to have an alternative first for everyone, not just privileged white women, before we eliminate abortion all together.

How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and War on Sex by Cristina Page published by Basic Books ISBN: 0465054897

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Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Literature


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Boycott this book!

For the most part, better or worse, I will finish a book once I pick it up.  I can count on one hand the number of times I prematurely put a novel down, vowing never to read it again.  One was Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella but it was mainly because I loved the movie so much that, for me, it was hard to translate into a book (this has not happened since because I always love the book ten times more than the movie).  I also stopped reading Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordan only 60 pages in because nothing was happening and it certainly wasn’t scaring me.

And, finally, tonight, I stopped reading The Washintonienne by Jessica Cutler and I vow never to pick it up again.

The basis of the book is slutty Jackie gets caught cheating on her fiancé so she moves from New York to DC.  There she finds she can fuck guys for money (mainly rent money) or to get jobs (that man was rewarded with his own job).  It wasn’t the sex that turned me away, even though having the main character get laid on ever other page was boring as fuck.  It wasn’t even the non-existent plot or lack of character development that sent urges of throwing the book out the window dancing through my arms and fingers.  No, it was the scent about one-third of the way through the book when Jackie is ass reaped and fails to acknowledge it as such.

The scene starts off when Jack and Dan, one of her “boyfriend” (read: fuck buddies), goes to the office late at night for a little action.  When they find the senator’s office locked, Dan suggests his cubical.  Jackie doesn’t like the idea and insists they leave, but Dan maneuvers her to his desk.  Suddenly, he’s on top of her from behind and she is struggling to get free.  Twice she tells him to stop but Dan “warns” her with, “‘Shhh…you don’t want this incident to end up on the front page of Roll Call, do you?’”*

The next line read from Jackie’s thoughts as narrator: “I stopped struggling.”

She continues to make excuses as to why they can’t have anal sex, yet Dan dismisses them, telling Jackie to “‘just relax.’”

It gets worse as Jackie complains that it will hurt her, as they don’t have any lube.  Dan trumps her with, what sounds in my mind like a misogynistic comment, “‘I want it to hurt…I want you to feel every vein.’”

After the incident Jackie, instead of acknowledging the date rape as it was, plays it off as “giving [herself] over to a man…to find out how nasty he really was.”  The truth of the scene, though, is she said no several times, verbally and nonverbally but Dan had his way anyway and he was completely in the wrong.

Rape scenes are one thing, when they are essential to the plot and forward the characterization of the protagonist.  But when the scene is disguised from what it really is, it is not only a huge slap in the face of every female but also a swift kick to the groin for every rape victim.  The messages the scene sends to women are many: we are powerless, we deserve to be treated this way, our opinions do not matter, we wanted it to happen, and rape isn’t really rape.  Stop these messages from spreading.  Don’t read the book and discourage your friends from ever buying or reading the book.  Let authors of all kinds know that it is not okay to send these messages to women.  No always means no.

*Quotes taken from pages 113-114 of the hardcover edition: ISBN 1401302009

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Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Literature, Rants



Books I think everyone should read (part 1)

Perks on Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

This coming-of-age novel is written in the letter format.  The protagonist, Charlie, writes to someone the reader only knows of as “friend” describing his awkward days through high school in great detail.  We follow Charlie as he struggles through life, love, and being an outsider to discovering things he never knew about himself.

Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Told from the perspective of four very curious boys, this book looks into the lives of the Lisbon sisters who each kill themselves within one year.

Basic Eight by Daniel Handler

We delve into the mind of young Flannery Culp as she makes her way through a semester of sex, murder, and scandal.  There is such a twist at the end that the book demands to be read twice, just to see if it works (and it does!)  Daniel Handler has a unique gift for stringing words together; each sentence is carefully set out, which is more than some writers do nowadays.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

All the details of the fast food industry from the farmers to the first McDonald’s stands (and how those arches represent breasts) are in this book.  Even the strictest vegan would cringe at the facts in here.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

This is an intense book of what one man gave up in order to survive.  A story of hope, faith, and a good look of life is interspersed with (surprisingly) humorous near-death experience stories.  It will make you think about what you value most in life and have you asking yourself how far you would go just to save yourself.

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Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Literature


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Another piece about America’s obsession with body image

It’s amazing that just a few years ago, the Atkins “diet” and the South Beach “diet” was all the buzz and fast food places were scrambling to keep their customers.  (First off, never will the words “fast food” and “diet” equate.)  Pizza places replaced crusts with tortillas.  Sub places replaced baguettes with tortillas.  Hamburger joints added salads to the menu.  (Second case in point: topping a salad with deep fried chicken strips defeats the purpose of “healthy alternative”.)

Now, just a few years later, the books are off the bestseller lists and food chains are no longer trying to bring out new products that are low in carbs.  It would seem that people are wising up.

Not so much.  The no carb fad was simply replaced by other fads.  One line of diet books looks at women (not men) from foreign countries and scrutinize why they are thin and Americans are not.  It started with the French, then the Japanese, then the Mediterranean, among countless others.  Do any of these authors take into consideration that Europeans are less stressed and exercise more?  On average, their work weeks are shorter and vacations are longer.  They don’t drive a block to the grocery store for three candy bars and a soda.  And speaking of which, do the authors make note that America is the only country who is both overfed and undernourished?

I don’t read these fad diet books.  I’m smart enough to know that eating truly healthy options and exercising is the best way to lose weight and keep it off.  And the surprising bit: I’m not a rocket scientist nor a brain surgeon.

But Americans’ obsession with body image does not only spread throughout the bookstores, but on our televisions as well.  We have reality shows dealking with the “issue”.  Celebrity Fit Club is one which I’ve never seen, but it sounds like B-list celebrities that have not only passed their prime, but passed their waistline.  One of the most popular of these types of shows, however, is The Biggest Loser, a show that, once I start watching, I cannot tear my eyes away from.  For those who have not seen it, the show consists of a big group (pardon the pun) of obese people who go to boot camp to lose weight.  Their lifestyles drastically change from day one with rigorous exercise and healthy eating.

Take a moment and imagine a reality show like this for smokers: The Biggest Hack.  Contestants come to a ranch-style home and must quit smoking cold turkey.  They are tested and tempted every day with piles of cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco.  Then, at the end of a long, smokeless week, the contestants participants go up on stage, one at a time, and see who hacks the longest and loudest, with bonus points if anything is dislodged and spit out.  I’m a bit surprised, actually, that NBC hasn’t picked up on this concept yet.

But on The Biggest Loser contestants are stripped down to the bare minimum and made to stand on a huge scale while their weight is broadcast to the world.  Could anything be more embarrassing?  The viewers at home gasp and cover their mouths when they see the huge (literally and figuratively) numbers reading from the scale.  “He’s three hundred and fifty-eight pounds.  Good god!” the viewers may say (and probably between bites of Doritos).

Why don’t we ever put a model on a scale on national TV and criticize her?  “She’s only ninety-six pounds?  She needs to gain weight!”  This would also be a good reality show: The Smallest Bulimic.  Geared toward teens and pre-teens, girls (no boys) from all over the country come to the ranch to chow down on foods and try not to throw it back up.  The person with the greatest weight gain gets the prize.  Hell, if they gain too much weight, they could just go over to The Biggest Loser.

My point being is that America has an obsession about losing weight and looking great.  Is it wrong to be healthy?  Absolutely not, but skinny does not equate healthy.  Fads are just that – fads – and will work for only so long.  The Biggest Loser is not the only show out there about body image, but certainly it is a lot better than some, like The Swan.  But the amount of energy and time focused on losing more and more weight raises questions in my head.  My questions are as follows: Why don’t we see shows on television devoted to helping smokers or bulimics and anorexics?  Why is the fad diet book section three times the size of the eating disorder section in bookstores?  Why do we publicly criticize fat people but praise skinny people when in all likelihood they are just as unhealthy?

Something is very wrong here and it’s time for a change.  It’s time for a revolution.

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Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Rants