Monday, September 3, 2012

Meghan Tonjes Response Video

Age 27

"I don't think you understand," I cried to my Mom. "I feel about my skin the way anorexics and bulimics feel about their bodies. Only I kind of envy them because at least they can do something about their weight. There is nothing I can do to make my skin clear up." Later in the conversation, I told her she was a bad mother for not being ashamed to be seen with me in public. Logically, I knew I was talking crazy, but my rational mind obviously was not in charge at the moment. I was throwing a temper tantrum because I wanted my acne to go away, and some achingly young part of me expected that my Mom could fix everything. She was baffled and protested that she thought I was fine, that she had not taught me about makeup and hairstyles because she thought I wasn't interested. I expected her to observe me close enough to know that this apparent disinterest was just clever camouflage. I was pretending I didn't care because it was the only way I could deal with hating my looks so much. Now I know that she was so afraid that insisting I wash my face or wear foundation would give me a complex of some kind that she erred by moving to the opposite extreme, leaving me without any information or support.

People with acne are invisible in our culture in a way that even overweight people are not. Plus size models are now depicted in ads alongside skinny ones, but you won't find any zits in popular culture. I take that back, there are exactly two places acne can be seen on TV: 1) ads for Proactiv, Clearasil and other acne products, and 2) in a comedy when a girl gets one zit the night before the prom and it's a huge tragedy. (Usually, when the camera zooms in on her face, the zit is practically invisible.) In fact, now may be the worst time in history to have bad skin. Because of Photoshop and airbrushing, we’re bombarded with images of perfect skin that is unachievable even for people without persistent breakouts. These Photoshop face fixes look natural and are even harder to spot than the waist-whittling seen so often on magazine covers and in catalogs. Even though our current vogue for thinness feels eternal and ubiquitous, there have been historical periods and cultures that encouraged weight gain and viewed plumpness as a sign of beauty (as well as relative wealth and privilege). On the other hand, clear skin is so central and universal in beauty standards that there is no culture in the world that has ever seen pocked, inflamed skin as attractive. Our reaction to seeing a pimple-covered face is visceral revulsion. This is an ingrained, evolved response that helped our ancestors avoid disease. Nowadays, we automatically think zits make someone look careless, unclean and immature. It's a stereotype without a name or an -ism.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Age 33

It is a common belief that eating disorders begin in adolescence, and while this is true for most, this was not the case for me. I had made it out of adolescence without an eating disorder, but once the dust settled on my rocky childhood and I was out on my own, I began to process my upbringing. It was then that I began a decade of obsession and dieting, entering into a shameful cycle of quietly binging and compulsively exercising, a cycle that I simply assumed was a by-product of being a young woman.

Only now do I see how the cycle was a product of my past, a latent response to surviving years of abuse and struggle. I could not control my past, and I could not control my future, but by God, I could control the person I would become. And that person would be skinny, as opposed to how chubby I was as a child and teen. If only I could shed the pounds, I could also shed my shameful past and be free to enjoy a healthy future.

So I focused on becoming the person I longed to be Рa thinner, more élan version of myself. Each day, my life was gauged by the weight on the scale and the size in my closet. Size 6? I am a champion. Size 8? I have work to do. Size 10? Failure. Utter and complete failure. Upon waking, I did not greet the day with gratitude, rather, I would wake to tally the daily calorie count, my exercise routine for the week, how many calories I had burned the day before, and scheduling in my head when and where I would burn extra calories that day.

In the periphery there was the rest of my life: love, jobs, friendships. Thanks to my focus on food, calories, and exercise, I was a self-contained island in a world of potential hurt. If I avoided connecting too deeply to anything, I could avoid being hurt altogether. I had something else to focus on instead, something that didn’t hurt me, and something that I could control. I had learned early on that everything was impermanent, and that the pain of loss was always just around the corner.

Faced with uncertainty and fear, I focused instead on what I could control, and that was entering in my daily calorie counts into the application on my smart phone. Apple: 60 calories. Toast: 110 calories. String Cheese: 80 calories. Running: 30 minutes, or 300 calories. I was always working towards a weight and size I felt best represented the better part of me, always needing to lose 5 more pounds. If only I can get to a size 4, everyone will see what a strong, beautiful woman I am. Only then would someone see my value. Only then would I find love, and therefore, a purpose. I did not realize at the time that my obsession with food and calories was really my way of maintaining control of my life, and a way to feel a sense of pride in myself that I couldn’t seem to find anywhere else.


Monday, July 23, 2012

TV Segment Opportunity

TV producer working on an eating disorder program for a major network is looking to help someone who is struggling with anorexia. Accepting all inquiries, but especially seeking women who are mid-age and suffering from an ED for the first time in their lives or have relapsed after years of recovery because of a trigger. Please contact us as soon as possible at with a brief introductory paragraph and contact info.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Age 16

At the age of sixteen, you would think that the only thing a girl would have to worry about is school or getting her drivers license. But no, not me. I have to look in the mirror everyday and see an ugly and fat girl staring back. I cry all the time about it. I hate myself. I want to be skinny. Actually, I feel like I have to be skinny. This world we live in isn't fair. It's just so hard trying to workout and diet everyday and then see no results. I'm trapped…I want to get out of this.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Age 16

Guilt. Shame. Disgust. Horror.

Those feelings haunted me, kept me up at night as I stared, or rather glared, at my reflection for hours. At 16 years of age, how could I already be running out of hope?

It wasn't always so.

As a child, with my messy blond hair and navy blue eyes, I never questioned my appearance. Or anyone else's, for that matter. Grades were perfect, little lithe figure was perfect, family was perfect. Just pure perfection. And then it all got complicated.

Grades were faltering to horrific new lows (A- and such disasters).

Parents became negligent of their 2nd, less interesting daughter (alias me).

The atrocities that no one had ever warned me about (hips) grew in, and just like that, my whole world shifted.

Was my face distorted? Was I morbidly obese? Was I (gulp) even pretty?

That last question changed everything. It changed me.

My eating got completely out of hand and the binging could not be controlled.

But my weight had to be.

It was all I could control.

I had to compensate - make up for - a monstrous creation from the Devil Himself, also known as my face.

I would maniacally run around my room in the middle of the night for hours on end, trying to burn off the calories I had just inhaled, and maybe also sweat off the ever present guilt and horror I felt about my eating habits.

I wanted to crawl out of my skin and, in some ways, I suppose I found outlets for that request.

At age 10 I started picking at my cuticles.

By age 14 I had worked all the way down to my knuckles, leaving my fingers blood red, swollen and often infected.

I moved on to the back of my neck, to my feet.

I had to get out of the prison cell that was my body.

During one of my tantrums, after looking at my horrid reflection for much too long, I punched myself with all my might. Right on the temple. Several times.

Punishment for my despicable behavior and my even more despicable appearance.

That was the moment I started to scare myself. Questioning my appearance had turned into questioning my sanity.

I tried to get help, but my secret weight loss tricks I had buried for 5 years (the manic exercise, the laxatives) were blocked by the carapace I had built around me to protect myself from getting hurt.

But the only person who was truly damaging me was the voice inside the fortress.

After months of rejection and misdirection by doctors, I was finally hospitalized. At 16 years of age. Seven months ago.

So when I look in the mirror, what do I see?

I see strength, but also vulnerability.

I see imperfection, but also a willingness, a courage to accept it.

Doubt may creep back up and shove me back down, but I always get back up and keep fighting.

Keep fighting the fight against pressure and judgment and conformity.

Because my health is a prize worth fighting for.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Age 18

At the vulnerable age of fourteen, I developed Anorexia.

My continuous denial left me in a state of panic when I was admitted into hospital at just 36 kilograms. Scenarios and ugly thoughts raced through my mind about the girls I'd be sharing a room with. The typical stereotype of an Anorexic was immediately demolished once I was settled in my hospital bed, reading a book, when three girls entered my curtain.

The words they spoke will never be forgotten. They told me I'm not alone, I'm not the only person this way and that they are here to help. The first time I had heard any of this.

After 4 years battling this disease, I recovered. I will forever dedicate my life to promote positive body image for those girls who don't understand how truly beautiful and admirable they really are.

I look in the mirror, and like so many girls, I often don't like what I see. All I need to do is believe what I am promoting, that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. I recovered from a deadly disease; I am strong enough to fight off something as deadly as cancer. What has any underweight model achieved?

I am a survivor.

And I prefer that over perfection.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Age 21

I am a 21 year old Bostonian girl. When I look in the mirror I see unwanted blemishes, sad eyes and dark brown skin. I see a self-conscience and insecure human being who wants to be outside of herself.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Open Letter From Ashley Judd

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

As an actor and woman who, at times, avails herself of the media, I am painfully aware of the conversation about women’s bodies, and it frequently migrates to my own body. I know this, even though my personal practice is to ignore what is written about me. I do not, for example, read interviews I do with news outlets. I hold that it is none of my business what people think of me. I arrived at this belief after first, when I began working as an actor 18 years ago, reading everything. I evolved into selecting only the “good” pieces to read. Over time, I matured into the understanding that good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations. I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.

However, the recent speculation and accusations in March feel different, and my colleagues and friends encouraged me to know what was being said. Consequently, I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.

A brief analysis demonstrates that the following “conclusions” were all made on the exact same day, March 20, about the exact same woman (me), looking the exact same way, based on the exact same television appearance. The following examples are real, and come from a variety of (so-called!) legitimate news outlets (such as HuffPo, MSNBC, etc.), tabloid press, and social media:

One: When I am sick for more than a month and on medication (multiple rounds of steroids), the accusation is that because my face looks puffy, I have “clearly had work done,” with otherwise credible reporters with great bravo “identifying” precisely the procedures I allegedly have had done.

Two: When my skin is nearly flawless, and at age 43, I do not yet have visible wrinkles that can be seen on television, I have had “work done,” with media outlets bolstered by consulting with plastic surgeons I have never met who “conclude” what procedures I have “clearly” had. (Notice that this is a “back-handed compliment,” too—I look so good! It simply cannot possibly be real!)

Three: When my 2012 face looks different than it did when I filmed Double Jeopardy in 1998, I am accused of having “messed up” my face (polite language here, the F word is being used more often), with a passionate lament that “Ashley has lost her familiar beauty audiences loved her for.”

Four: When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? How it also suggests that my husband values me based only on my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)

Five: In perhaps the coup de grace, when I am acting in a dramatic scene in Missing—the plot stating I am emotionally distressed and have been awake and on the run for days—viewers remarks ranged from “What the f--k did she do to her face?” to cautionary gloating, “Ladies, look at the work!” Footage from “Missing” obviously dates prior to March, and the remarks about how I look while playing a character powerfully illustrate the contagious and vicious nature of the conversation. The accusations and lies, introduced to the public, now apply to me as a woman across space and time; to me as any woman and to me as every woman.

That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

A case in point is that this conversation was initially promulgated largely by women; a sad and disturbing fact. (That they are professional friends of mine, and know my character and values, is an additional betrayal.)

News outlets with whom I do serious work, such as publishing op-eds about preventing HIV, empowering poor youth worldwide, and conflict mineral mining in Democratic Republic of Congo, all ran this “story” without checking with my office first for verification, or offering me the dignity of the opportunity to comment. It’s an indictment of them that they would even consider the content printable, and that they, too, without using time-honored journalistic standards, would perpetuate with un-edifying delight such blatantly gendered, ageist, and mean-spirited content.

I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends? Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? What does this have to do with how women are treated in the workplace?

I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women. It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others—and in my case, to the actual public. (I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another time).

If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one, because it has been misogynistic from the start. Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. Join in—and help change—the Conversation.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Age 19

There I was, a 6-year-old girl, already beginning to develop breasts. As I continued to grow it didn’t take much for me to realize that I was the tallest, had the biggest feet and of course, the biggest body. Mind you, the fact I knew didn’t stop anyone reminding me of my abnormalities. We had mum on the phone, “I know she’s very big for her age, she’s a bit abnormal.” Brother, “Yeah that’s my sister, she’s the biggest one.” And who can forget good old Aunty H., “Oh, wow. You like to eat, don’t you?”

Throughout my young years into my teenage years, I felt constantly haunted by the fact that I was always the most developed which meant that I stood out the most. All I wanted to do was fade away and go about life completely unnoticed by anyone, even myself at times. Don’t get me wrong, in secondary school I wasn’t short of attention from boys. Every day consisted of me walking through the corridors - trying not to make eye contact with anyone, being hounded by the some of the best looking and horniest boys in the school. For some girls, that’s the dream - stomping down the corridor turning all the older boys’ heads. But for me, it was my worst nightmare - I didn’t believe I was pretty, I didn’t believe they wanted to talk to me for my “amazing personality.” As far I was concerned, they were dogs and behaved like such.

It’s always really interesting that no matter how much someone can tell you that you’re beautiful, if you don’t feel it yourself, they are simply just words with no weight or substance. It came to me one day, sitting in my math class. I was 16 at the time. There were two girls sitting in front of me arguing or discussing something. Finally one of them turned around and asked me, “Be honest, am I ugly?” That’s when it dawned on me, that I wasn’t the only girl who had these issues and this poor girl sitting in front of me looked so broken and worn down by all of the worry of not being “pretty.” My answer was simple, “No. You are not. You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone make you feel as if you’re not.” It was time for me to take my own advice - what use would it be to anyone else if I don’t live that principle myself?

Dwelling on those words - I am beautiful, I am beautiful, I am beautiful - things began to change for me. As painful as it was, I decided to take a long, hard, detailed look at myself and tell myself all of the things that make me unique and different and how I was going to use those qualities to find my inner confidence. Eventually I did. I realized that I have a nice speaking voice, so I went for roles in plays and volunteered to do the reading in English. Becoming those characters helped me greatly. It meant that in that moment, it was all about me and no one else. You had to stop and listen to me, look at me, feel what I’m saying and if you didn’t, I would speak louder so you had to listen to me. Own the floor. I had always looked at my large 34E breasts as a burden, something that would never go away and bring negative attention to myself. Soon I realized that being that girl with bigger boobs than everyone else was my thing, I had something that every other girl wanted and couldn’t have, so instead I began to feel lucky that I’d been blessed with something so rare at my age. I knew I had a passion for quirky clothing, hairstyles and accessories. Once I built the courage to speak loudly in front of people with my head high, the confidence naturally came to experiment with my different sense of style and various hair colors. Very soon I had built an identity for myself around the things that I enjoyed and what I liked. I was who I was and nobody was taking that away from me.

Now, at the age of 19, I’m over the moon with my figure and my personality. Sometimes when it seems like nothing good is happening to you, you must make something good happen from what you have. It’s like being really hungry and only having eggs and cheese in the fridge - you take the two and make a banging omelet! I have two words that always pick me up when I’m low on life: OWN IT. Any flaw that you may have about yourself: OWN IT. When you’re walking down street, walk down like you OWN the street. When you enter a room, enter like you OWN the room.

Think this moment is mine, and mine alone.