Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Narcissism to the Fore

I belong to an on-line support group of women who have given up dieting. We have discovered that it doesn't work for us. The amazing thing about this is that, in giving up dieting, we also gave up a number of other things. Like eternally yo-yoing to ever higher numbers. Like food obsession. Like self-hatred. Like wasting our money on diet products and treatments and books. Like having anything to talk about with a huge proportion of the women we used to hang out with. Like feeling guilty for having a piece of our own birthday cake.

But, we have discovered that we also gave up a number of things that don't, at first glance, seem to have much to do with food or weight. Like being willing to let other people define our value. Like believing that we are less. Like accepting the gender stereotypes that so suppress us. Like letting insecure men win games that they can't win if we don't let them. Like being willing to cater to the whims of others.

The refusal to allow society to define us as ugly because we are fat evolves into the refusal to allow society to define us as less because we are women, and eventually to questioning why we should need to be beautiful to be worthy. Learning to first accept that the fat old woman in the mirror is me, and then to come to like her (there was the morning that I found myself, nekkid as I was born, dancing in front of the mirror and singing "I'm a little teapot" with all the kindergarten hand movements) has led to being proud of her. To seeing her in a store window and thinking "That's someone's beautiful grandmother" and then realizing that indeed, it is Maya's beautiful Granny.

And what we have discovered is that we are no longer self-involved. Dieting takes all of your energy. You have to always be aware of what you are eating, counting the points, counting the calories, counting the carbs. Remembering everything you ate today to see if you can "afford" a licorice whip. Breaking out and bingeing and hating yourself and planning the next diet. All of it self-hatred. All of it self-involved. While the world goes to hell in a handbasket, the dieter counts her points and doesn't notice. Doesn't notice while we attack a country that didn't threaten us in any way. Doesn't notice as our Constitutional rights are stolen from us. Doesn't notice that the current administration doesn't tell, or indeed recognize, the truth. Doesn't notice while women's reproductive rights are whittled away at an ever accelerating rate. Doesn't notice as women in the work place lose ground on wages. Doesn't notice as the U.S. government attacks science and slides further toward theocracy. Doesn't notice when the vice-president tells us that if the people of Connecticut vote Lieberman out of office they will be encouraging terrorists. Doesn't notice when New Orleans drowns and when a year later the levees still haven't been adequately repaired.

Focusing on your appearance, whether out of pride or shame, is a form of narcissism. And narcissism will destroy not only the individual who exhibits it, but our country as well. Amazingly, being willing to give up the focus on my body, my beauty, my diet becomes the willingness to focus on our world.

There is a great story on Alternet.org about narcissism In Love With Ourselves by Silja J.A. Talvi.
American culture is full of narcissists of all shapes and stripes -- George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Paris Hilton and any number of other public figures leap to mind.
And how can it be otherwise? Sit for one night and pay attention to the commercials on any channel on television. How many instruct you to become self-involved to achieve happiness? How about the 51 year old grandmother strutting around her pool with the body of a teenager, due to her use of the exercise equipment? How about the guys guzzling beer and finding adventure? How about the hair color commercial that tells you that you deserve the very best? The automobile ad that suggests that it's never too early to buy a status car?

Aren't they all saying that if you pay more attention to your needs and wants, buy their product, you will be perfect? And isn't the very idea that you could be perfect narcissistic?

12 comments:

saz said...

So true! I'll keep coming back to read this again and again. Thanks.

naomi dagen bloom said...

once again you've focused on an issue that needs more attention. in the 1980s, christopher lasch wrote "the culture of narcissism," which received much attention for a nano-second. you, however, have summed it all up is just a few paragraphs. and the naked dance is a delightful counterpoint.

Jill said...

Oh, Joycelyn, you continue to be my inspiration. Since I "met" you online what seems like a million years ago, your wisdom has always been wonderful. You are a beautiful gift, Maya's Granny!

("OO") Jill

Autumn's Mom said...

Awesome. You are Maya's beautiful granny. I thought of you last night. We were watching Taste of America and they were in Fairbanks, Alaska. Have you ever had fish ice cream? It didn't look very appealing but I supose if I ever find myself in Fairbanks I would try it.

Ally Bean said...

all that the commercials and magazines ever tell me is that I am wrong-- the way I look, the products I use, the things I think.

fortunately, i know that they all lie, so I ignore them.

I once read an interview with a local physician who said quite simply: exercise and eat for good health and you can never go wrong.

sane advice that I follow every day in a world crazy with narcissism.

Deja Pseu said...

Excellent post, Joycelyn!!

A couple of things come to mind reading this. First about dieting: I remember when we talked about how being a "successful" dieter usually means that your world gets smaller and smaller as constant hunger keeps the brain focused on the next meal. In "The Beauty Myth", Naomi Wolf actually documents how caloric restriction changes brain chemistry and function and literally makes people more self-abosorbed. Her quote "Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women's history. A quietly mad population is a tractable one," hits it on the head. Dieters also tend to progressively avoid social or other situations where they may not be in control of the food being served, and so become more narrow and isolated.

A second thought (about the overall culture of narcissism we seem to live in): one of my common gripes these days is how many people I seem to encounter who have an overblown sense of entitlement. From the person who blatantly cuts ahead of you in line at the market to the men who feel they "deserve" to date only the "hawt" women, to a$$holes who drive battleship-sized, gas-guzzling SUV's, to the uber wealthy who don't feel they should have to shoulder the same tax burden as the rest of us, this sense of entitlement seems to have taken over our culture.

Sorry, am a bit long-winded this morning!

Kyria said...

I'm all in favor of focusing on your appearance out of pride (e.g., "Maya's beautiful
Granny!"), and I don't believe it necessarily impedes anyone's powers of observation!

Kyria said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maya's Granny said...

Autumn's Mom, No I haven't eaten fish ice cream. Thank heavens none was ever offered to me, since refusing food is horribly rude in Native Alaskan cultures. Another reason to be glad I gave up dieting -- I don't have to decide between breaking my diet and insulting a friend.

Ally Bean, They tell us all that we are wrong. If there was nothing wrong with us we wouldn't need their product. Just think advertising, the industry whose job it is to convince people that there is something basically wrong with them!

Zan said...

You're absolutely right. Once I stopped dieting, my weight stablized. Sure, it's higher than I'd like, but so what? It's stable, I'm healthy and I can do whatever I want with my body, so why should I care what other people think? And you're right, you start to focus on so many other things. When you're not obsessed with food, with what you're going to eat and when you're going to eat and if you should have salad dressing or not or how many calories are in a jelly bean anyway? you've got time to pay attention and start to enjoy your life. Your opinion of beauty starts to change too. There was a time I could do this, but now I can stand naked in front of my mirror and really like what I see. And if I like what I see, then I'm going to project that. And confidence is beautiful, no matter what shape it comes in.

Rain said...

That was great and so true. I aim now to eat healthily but can't let myself lose part of the joy of living-- eating good food-- to look like I did at 20. I can't do it anyway. I am better off trying to be healthy for where I am. And I use commonsense on what I eat, not rely on the latest panic stance from some health study which will likely change its mind next month with a new grant anyway.

Andy said...

This was a brilliant read, informative and insightful. Thank you so much for sharing your views here. Personally, I don't think there is such a thing as a diet that's good for you. Weight is an issue for reasons of health but the way to counter it is to eat well, whenever you want, only avoiding junk with chemicals in it and laden with fat and sugar. People don't want to hear sensible eating advice; they want to hear that, like pop star Beyonce, they can eat nothing but maple syrup for a month and lose half their weight - dangerous and short-sighted. x