Leave Jillian Alone

The media is skewering Jillian Michael’s comments on adoption as “disturbing” but I say she gave an honest answer that other women are afraid to cop to. 

 I never thought I’d be taking sides with a TV exercise guru, let alone The Biggest Loser’s Jillian Michaels. First of all, I find the concept of fat people competing to lose weight totally objectionable. While we’re at it, in spite of all the rave reviews I’m terrified of trying 30 Day Shred. Some people get off on being yelled at but for me there is nothing that makes me want to quit sweating and flop on the couch in defeat more than some woman yelling at me from the TV like a tanned, spandex clad Trunchbull. 

 What’s she in the news for that’s got me in her corner? The ethics of her TV show haven’t come under fire. Nobody’s hating on her for announcing that she’d like to be the next Oprah, either. So what’s earned her criticism everywhere from Yahoo News to Jezebel? People are dissing on Michaels for one of the most personal decisions a woman can make, how she plans on becoming a mom. 

  Check out this passage from the May 2010 issue of Women’s Health:

 “She also hopes to have kids someday saying, “I’m going to adopt.” One of the reasons: Jillian admits to having an aversion to pregnancy, the result of being an overweight kid. “I can’t handle doing that to my body”, she explains. “Also, when you rescue someone it’s like rescuing a part of yourself.”

 Her life, her body, her choice? Right? Wrong. I’m not surprised by the mainstream media backlash against Michaels, what disturbs me is how she’s been slammed for her choices by so many feminist journalists. The Huffington Post obnoxiously sensationalized the article with the misquoted headline, “I won’t ruin my body with pregnancy.” While Jezebel’s Anna N opines, “It’s certainly disturbing that Michaels, who likely represents health to millions of Americans, seems to equate pregnancy with some sort of bodily injury.” OK, well fair enough, but doing “that” to her body is only one small reason in a larger rationale that involves “rescuing” another person. That’s certainly laudable, right? And even if “ruining her body” was her main concern, who cares? Is it really that big of a deal that Jillian Michaels might do a valuable service to society by adopting a child and manage to avoid stretch marks while she’s at it?

 Part of the reason why I hate this controversy so much is that it reeks of the old, “Adopted moms aren’t real moms.” bias. As if women who don’t have babies the old-fashioned way are somehow cheating because we all know that  the only way to become a true mother is to carry a baby for 9 months and then squeeze it out of your cha-cha because what makes a mom a mom isn’t your unconditional love for another human being but the morning sickness, the night sweats and the leaking titties. Puh-leeze. 

 And if this isn’t a glaring example of feminist, “UR DOIN IT WRONG” then I don’t know what is. Feminists are supposed to support the reproductive choices of other women, not slam them. Whether or not Jillian Michaels plans to use her own uterus in her quest to become a mom isn’t supposed to be anybody’s business but her own. 

 I say that women are disturbed by Michaels because she’s given voice to a fear that all of us have (I challenge  you to find a woman of childbearing age who hasn’t experienced a bit of anxiety regarding her body and pregnancy.)  and she’s found a way to circumvent that fear in a way that we find selfish.  She’s cheating. You can’t have your cake and eat it to. You can’t be a fitness guru, have a baby and avoid the physical trials of pregnancy. That’s not playing by the rules. Therefor, we must  censure her. 

 Our culture consistently treats female anxiety over the physical ramifications of pregnancy as mere vanity when in reality it is often so much more than that. The physical pitfalls of pregnancy are more than just stretch marks and excess flab. They can include incontinence, uterine prolapse, diabetes and sexual dysfunction. I think I speak for many women when I say that I can handle the extra flab, but the idea of my uterus falling into my vagina is what really scares me. Why are women’s very real physical concerns about pregnancy always played off by the media as shallow, immature and hysterical? For fuck’s sake, we live in a country where women can be treated as abusers for refusing a C-section and provisions for the criminalization of miscarriages have been discussed. To be pregnant is to completely give up control of your own body and put your faith into a heath and justice system that is often completely misogynistic. If that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is. Why can’t we say it? Why do we have to play it off as vanity and selfishness? 

I guess all of this hits a little too close to home because like Michaels, I dream of becoming an adopted mom. Maybe it was all those Anne of Green Gables books I read as a child but adoption has always been something I’ve been drawn to. For me it also serves a practical purpose. Like Michaels I’m no spring chicken, I’m already over 30 and not interested in having kids for another 5 years or so (And no I’m not willing to hurry that timetable up, thank you very much.). And OK while we’re at it, I’ll just go ahead and out myself here and tell y’all that I also have a rare hormonal disorder that would make getting pregnant difficult in the first place and pretty much guarantee a risky pregnancy if I finally was to get knocked up.  I simply can’t imagine going through roller coaster  of fertility treatments, miscarriages and complicated pregnancies into my late 30s. (Let alone the expense and exposure to cancer-causing hormones.) Going through all that just to have a little genetic copy of myself, especially when I know that there are kids out there (probably in my own zip code) who need loving families is what seems selfish to me. 

Time and again when I explain my interest in adoption I’m looked at as if I’m immature, unwomanly, unnatural. People just can’t fathom why I would choose adoption before every other avenue toward biological motherhood had been exhausted. I’ve even had people tell me that if I don’t want to get pregnant then I shouldn’t become a parent. Ouch. Overall, the message I’ve received from the pitying looks on the faces of acquaintances and the withering silence on the other side of the phone when I explain my hopes of adopting to my mother send a clear message: adoption is an inadequate substitute for biological motherhood and women who choose to adopt for reasons other than necessity are selfish. 

Why do we feel this way? Why is it that men who choose to raise somebody else’s children are lauded as heroes while women who do it are treated barren, pathetic and psychologically damaged? Why is the notion that biological motherhood is the ultimate fulfillment of femininity still so widely accepted and unquestioned?  Awfully sexist, not to mention heterosexist, when you think about it.

I feel that part of the problem comes that we have so few lenses through which to view motherhood. Society likes to pigeonhole females. We’re either the Madonna or the whore, the self-sacrificing martyr or the evil, avaricious, mommy dearest.  Snow White, or Wicked Queen. You need only look as far as any Disney move to see that our culture likes our mothers beautiful, innocuous, and preferably dead. The woman who adopts out of choice and dares to admit that she won’t mind keeping her waist line in the process doesn’t fit into this script. We’d rather censure her than learn from her how to expand our narrow notion of motherhood. 

In all the articles I read about Michaels, not one person stuck up for her. I’m here to say that I sympathize with and understand her reasons for making the choices she’s made and I support them. Beyond that, I hope to be a part of a generation of women that’s rewriting  the script on motherhood. We don’t need no stinkin’ Barbie Dream Family to be real moms.  Moms can be of all ages, backgrounds and persuasions. Moms are adopted, surrogate, single, partnered, whatever. Love makes a family and love makes a mom, no genetic material (or stretch marks) required.

April 27, 2010 at 12:40 am 6 comments

Patti Smith on PBS Tonight!

Ok, so I totally dropped the ball on the whole Louisa May Alcott live blogging thing. Liveblogs always seem better in theory than they are in real life. I always think they’ll be a great tool to record my impressions (i.e blog without really having to blog about something so my readers won’t lose interest in my writing and abandon me). In reality, there I am, halfway into a bottle of red wine trying to learn about someone I’m deeply interested in  while also trying to construct something witty and insightful to say about what I’m watching and doing a piss poor job of it. 

Really it would be better if I just shut my damn laptop and tried to appreciate something without having to deconstruct it, right? That and the formatting. Do I do it in one stream of consciousness post? Do I do it in lots of mini-posts that the reader has to go back and decipher? What do I do about it all going up in reverse chronological order? That has to be a pain in the ass to read, right? I have to figure out how to do this while I’m drinking and trying to watch something? Psssh! What do you take me for, a rocket scientist?

It is in this spirit that I am not even going to attempt to liveblog the PBS airing of Dreams of Life, the Patti Smith bio-documentary. But you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be watching. Smith is not only an incredible artist, but one of my personal heroes as well, somebody who really did (and I don’t care if this will sound corny) change my life when I saw her live in the summer of 2000. As all the calls in to her NPR interview today attest, countless other fans feel just the same way about her. Her  bravery, honesty and fearlessness has made her an inspiration to generations.

And it’s her birthday today! keep on rockin’ Patti!

If you’ve ever been curious about her music, you owe it to yourself to watch tonight or at least TiVo it. As I saw her almost 10 years ago when I was a much different person than I am today, it is a fitting thing to do to close out the year, and the oughties.

December 30, 2009 at 9:29 pm 2 comments

Louisa May Alcott Live Blogging

Yeah, I’m liveblogging the Louisa May Alcott American Masters Special on PBS. And I may have already started drinking. What?

December 29, 2009 at 2:01 am 1 comment

Well, Duh!

Plunking your kid in front of the TV won’t make her a genius.

File this under I can’t believe this is news but an article published on Yahoo Shine today claims that the revelation that the Baby Einstein videos are nothing more than, “a mind numbing way to occupy infants”, is apparently, “rocking the parent world.”

All I can say is…really? The idea that TV isn’t good for kids under two is “rocking” the parenting world?

I don’t have children of my own which in some necks of the woods qualifies me for nothing but withering looks when I issue an opinion on child rearing, but I do have multiple degrees in education and once upon a time I used to work for the largest toy retailer in the city of Boston. The Baby Einstein videos were on a constant loop on a small beat up TV in the infant’s department. Being within ten feet of them while I scraped gum off the floor, scooped candy into tiny cellophane bags or gift wrapped a $300 mohair teddy bear as a present for a toddler who would undoubtably gnaw the ear off of it was enough to give me, a grown woman, a migraine. People, have you ever seen these videos? They’re like bad acid flashbacks. Seriously, my mind hasn’t been bent so severely since the light show at that Phish concert I got dragged to back in college. Baby Einstein videos aren’t educational, in fact I’d argue that they have more potential to damage a kid’s attention span than make them smarter. They’re the equivalent of video catnip. In short, they are a shitty, stupid and ridiculous product that just happens to have a marketing scheme that plays into the vanity, insecurity and laziness of modern parents. My kid can have a head start over all the other kids and all I have to do is plop him in front of these videos!

As a sales associate I would constantly try to steer potential gift givers away from the Baby Einstein videos,”How about a monogrammed baby blanket? A set of handmade wooden blocks? A hardcover heirloom-quality edition of Make Way for Ducklings?”

Like an evil parent from a Roald Dahl novel the parent would reply,”Oh he already has enough books, let’s get him some videos.” Enough books? I grew up in a family where one could never have enough books. The idea that a parent would choose a video that was obviously garbage over a book was mind-boggling to me. Who are you? The Wormwoods?

“A child can’t have too many books!” I’d opine cheerfully. The Beacon Hill mom would dismiss me with a wave of a perfectly manicured hand decked with a diamond that was probably worth more than the house I grew up in and say in a tone that barely masked her contempt that a complete philistine who wore a name-tag and a polo shirt to work would dare to give her parenting advice, “The Baby Einstein videos were designed to be educational. It’s brain science. I’ll take two.”

Time and again people would ask me my opinion on the Baby Einstein videos and I’d tell them I didn’t think they were developmentally sound. Time and again people would tell me I was wrong, just because the packaging and the advertising told them it would make their kid smarter. Never mind that anybody with two eyes can look at the videos and see they are junk. Never mind that the parental wisdom that children under two shouldn’t be watching TV has been around forever. Why are we so quick to trust what advertising and packaging tell us are true instead of our own guts? Are we that insecure with our own judgement? Are parents that lazy?

I’m laughing to myself today thinking about all those condescending bitches who used to send their drivers around to the store to fill the family Cadillac Escalade with birthday gifts for their toddlers (I saw a lot of that, it was downtown Boston before the stock market crash) instructing their maids to purge all the Baby Einstein merch from the nursery. “Get that garbage out of here, I read on the internet that it isn’t educational! Now Blake  Jr. will never get into Harvard! “

Ha fucking ha, bitch.

It warrants a mention that parents have been looking for a way to occupy small children since the beginning of time. And no, women in the work force or feminism is not to blame for this particular form (or I’d argue, any form) of crap parenting. Yes, parents of both genders are busier than ever so an excuse to plop your kids in front of the TV while you fix dinner is more seductive as it ever has been. But let’s be straight here people, my grandmother and her  mother and just about every other mother who went before them were stay at home moms. Did they spend their days playing mentally stimulating, developmentally appropriate educational games with their kids? Hell no, they smoked, played bridge and got their hair done while the kids ran around and played outside. And out of those generations of children, plenty of them still were top in their class, got into ivy league schools and landed good jobs, no cracked out kiddie videos required.

Know what is developmentally appropriate? Building a fort with the couch cushions, coloring with those big fat crayons and playing in the sandbox. In fact, I’d argue that almost anything is more appropriate for toddlers than watching Baby Einstein videos. But how would I know? I’m not a parent, I’m just a person with common sense.

Sometimes I’m not so sure I want to have children, but articles like this make me want to breed just to make sure that another generation of children will grow up knowing what it is like to play in the mud, put on their own puppet shows and live with a life that’s not over-scheduled and inundated with pre-packaged crap before they’re even old enough to tie their own shoes.




October 27, 2009 at 3:05 pm 5 comments

I Have Boobs, Deal With It.

Sing it, Meghan McCain!

So by now most of us are already over the non-controversy regarding Meghan McCain and a certain chesty twit pic. However it is her response today in the Daily Beast that really intrigues me as it seems to encapsulate the struggles that all well-endowed women face. So McCain posted a picture of herself on twitter sporting vaguely porny looking cleavage. She claimed it was in preparation for her big night in that involved a good book and some takeout. Now I don’t know a 20 something female who would post and unflattering or dowdy picture of herself on the internet and as Broadsheet pointed out, “What do they think young Republican women wear to bed? Lanz of Salzburg?” OK, so posting a megaboobs shot of yourself online might be vaguely tacky (however again, I challenge you to find me a 20-something female who doesn’t have at least one vaguely saucy pic of herself on Facebook) but to be called a slut over it? What century are we in?

 McCain says she has, “struggled to accept the fact that the way I look in a tank top comes off more “sexual” than a flat-chested woman.”  I can totally relate here, there are some styles smaller chested women can wear without stares that I just can’t pass off without looking like Marilyn Monroe. Although it can be a nuisance at time, I’ve always ultimately thought of it as a nice problem to have. I do my best to dress appropriately for the situation I’m in, try to keep it all “tucked in” and not flash people in public, but in the end… I have boobs. They’re big, sometimes people are going to notice them. I’m not going to go around wearing turtlenecks every day or uncomfortable chest minimizing bras just because some people can’t handle the sight of a fully grown woman. 

What’s up with people behaving as if having large or noticeable breasts is a sign of promiscuity? Last time I checked, there was no correlation between cup size and number of sexual partners and if there is… boy did I miss out when I was single. It doesn’t work the opposite way, people don’t look at women with small breasts and think, “Oh, she must be such a prude.”  Why do we look at a woman who has larger breasts, breasts that are often more visible than the breasts of a smaller woman and automatically think that she’s a slut just because her body’s doing what it does naturally? 

Although breasts are highly fetishized in our culture, the fact is that they serve a very practical evolutionary purpose; feeding human babies. Unless you have a lactation fetish, that’s just about the least sexual thing I can think of. Having large breasts is not an invitation for people to stare, comment or think ill of my character any more than having a large nose or ears would be. Living with the body I was born with and feeling comfortable in it, comfortable enough to not want to hide behind boxy clothing doesn’t make me, or Meghan McCain a slut. And while we’re at it, I’m so done with slut shaming. What’s a slut? Anyone who’s had more sex than you have? I’m tired of the word slut. I’m a slut, you’re a slut, we’re all sluts. Why in this day and age do we really think it is our business to comment on who or how many people anybody else is sleeping with anyway? 

Meghan McCain says she’s proud  of her curves, but like so much of her other writing, I feel that she gets close to making a great point and then backs off it in the end. She says she’s not perfect and that she’s still “making mistakes” and that she says she’s, “learned a valuable lesson about the internet and boundaries” and hopes, “other girls can learn from this episode.” Learning to draw the line between the internet and real life is a valuable lesson for sure, but in the end is this a lesson about being who you are, critics be damned, or covering up and shutting up when a few assholes pull out the S word? After all, McCain did threaten to take down her twitter page after the whole incident, something she has never done when the media has repeatedly called her fat. Why is it that a tiny four lettered word like slut has the power to make a confident woman like McCain consider silencing herself? Why is it that we use the word slut so often to defame, discredit and shut down young women? 

It’s something to think about. In the mean time, don’t you even think about calling me and my C cups slutty. Unless, of course, you mean it in a good way.

October 17, 2009 at 1:55 am 1 comment

Midday Barf O Rama

So in keeping with the topic of the Sluttoween,  here are some links you can check out if you really want to throw up in your mouth a little:

For some reading that will make you want to give up on society and move to a yurt in the middle of the wilderness, check out the blog Packaging Girlhood. They are hoping the stripper pole marketed as a children’s toy is a hoax. So am I.

And if you really want to break your brain, see Salon’s article on sexy Halloween costumes for your pets. Now just because she’s a dog doesn’t mean Fifi can’t sex it up once in a while. Seriously, being seen with a dowdy, unattractive pet on Halloween is like totally embarrassing! No more hot-dog or bumble-bee costumes for my Dachshund, this year Sparky is going as a naughty nurse!

People, Sluttoween has gone too far. I call bullshit on these stupid costumes (which aren’t even clever most of the time) and hereby announce a boycott against un-inspired slutty costumes for women of all ages. Forget sexy cop, sexy beer wench and sexy prostitute, this year I’m going as Botulism. Don’t think I won’t do it. Last year I appeared in a fat suit as Teddy Roosevelt. I’ve also donned a zombie Lavinia costume involving so much fake blood that it made other trick or treaters gag. One thing is for sure, for the sake of my sanity the Catholic School girl outfit is staying in the closet this year.

October 13, 2009 at 5:47 pm 4 comments

Oh I Don’t Know…

Call it out of character, but I’m having difficulty mustering feminist outrage against the supposedly “new” phenomenon of pre-teens buying into the “Slutoween” trend by donning tarty costumes made especially for them. 

Why? Well first of all, I have trouble with the idea that pre-teen girls trying to dress older than their years is anything new, or even necessarily something that adults should be overly alarmed about. Adolescent girls have always pilfered mom’s lipstick and changed in the bathroom at the school dance into that shorter skirt the ‘rents wouldn’t let them leave the house in. Yeah, part of that is pressure from society, but part of it is also natural curiosity. Trying to figure out what the hell to do with one’s newly morphed pubescent body is a big undertaking and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of experimentation (and plenty of fashion train-wrecks) to figure out your relationship with your budding body. Dressing older (and by association, sexier) is as much about independence to most teen girls as it is about fitting in and being pretty. Instead of trusting our girls to navigate the muddy waters of adolescence and make good choices why do we behave as if it only takes one pair of sparkley fishnets to turn a 13-year-old into a baby prostitute?

Case in point, when I was in seventh grade I saw the movie Clue and decided I wanted to be a French maid for Halloween. My mother tried to talk me out of it. She even tried appealing to my emergent feminism by explaining that French maids are sort of a degrading male fantasy. This tidbit was pretty much lost on me. At that point my budding sexuality did not include any awareness of dominance, submission or other kinks. All I knew was that French maids got to wear frilly costumes, carry feather dusters and speak in smarmy French accents. Who wouldn’t want to be a French maid for Halloween? All mom’s suggestions for other, more appropriate costumes for a thirteen year old (“What about being a bag of grapes!? We can blow up some purple balloons and stick them to a sweat suit!”) fell on deaf ears. I was dug in. I was being a French maid for Halloween. 

Instead of locking me up and throwing away the key, my mother reluctantly took me on a field trip to the local costume shop to pick out the most conservative French maid outfit we could find. She also insisted that I wear a turtleneck under it and drape a shawl over my shoulders, “Because it will be cold out.” I went out trick or treating in the outfit, practiced my smarmy French accent, accosted several people with my feather duster, collected a butt load of candy and came home… without herpes. I did not magically become popular with all the boys. I didn’t even end up dating for another three years. I didn’t ditch my well worn wardrobe of peasant skirts and wool clogs for leather pants and bustiers. The next Halloween I went as Red Death from Phantom of the Opera in pants, a tuxedo shirt, a floor length cape and a mask that covered most of my face. In short, I remained unharmed by my brush with the Slutoween phenomenon. 

Was I just lucky that I didn’t become a statistic? I think not. First of all, I had good parents who wanted to have constructive conversations with me about my choices instead of just slut-shaming me. Because she actually listened to me my mother learned that my interest in being a French maid had more to do with playing a kooky character than pandering to the male sex. In fact, pandering to the male sex wasn’t even on my radar at that age. Even if it had been, I’m sure mom and I would have had a conversation about that too.

Unlike the author of the Daily Mail Article, I don’t believe that, “Parents who allow their offspring to wear this junk should consider putting them up for adoption.” I am so glad that my parents valued me as a person who could make her own decisions instead of thinking of me as a Pretty Pretty Princess that they had to keep pure as long as possible no matter what the cost.

Pre-teens of both genders are thinking about sex all the time and it’s totally natural. What else are you going to do when your brain is totally bathed in hormones? We’d be foolish to think that denying them every pair of tacky earrings or pot of lip gloss is going to stop them from growing up too fast. Guarding your daughters from the trappings of adulthood is a false sense of security. Instead of trying to take away the makeup and the high heels, why aren’t we trying to teach young women that these things don’t have to define them? Because that would mean that parents would actually have to talk openly and honestly about growing up with their kids… and that’s just awkward. Better to call them  whores and ground them until they are 30! 

As a kid I was encouraged to think for myself and stand up for what I believed in and be my awkward, imperfect self in any way that I wanted to be. This didn’t win me many friends in Junior High but in the end I think it made me less susceptible to the junk culture that tells girls their only value is being attractive. I understand that parents have a very real responsibility to protect their kids form predators. I also understand just how damaging it is to sexualize children from a young age. I just don’t think that the solution to the problem is to shelter our children more. I think the solution is to help our children learn to make good choices on their own.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if my mom had refused to let me wear that French maid outfit on Halloween. I certainly would have had less fun dressed as a bag of grapes. Would I have merely snuck out in the slutty outfit anyway? Would fishnets and heels become even more attractive and glamorous once I knew that my mother hated them? Of course! Perhaps the fact that I had permission to experiment with the sexy outfit in the first place also empowered me to reject it in the end. Bottom line… kids are vulnerable, precious and impressionable but they are also a lot smarter than we think they are. Raise your kid well and a little eyeliner (or a slutty Halloween costume) isn’t going to change who they are. 

October 13, 2009 at 12:23 am 3 comments

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