July 4th, 2011

Maureen Dowd on developments in the DSK case


When this whole thing broke, I was really, really happy that we had reached a cultural point where we would actually listen to a maid (an attitude in no way dependent on the truth -- we take powerful people seriously when they lie until it's proven in avoidable detail that they lied; social justice demands we do the same for everyone). It is in no way surprising that a case of this nature goes away (or looks about to, anyway) in a cloud of accusations against the accuser.

I have not read a ton of coverage of developments. This is a plausible summary:


Anyone who thinks DSK is going to be running for President of France will still have the Banon accusations to contemplate, however:


Gawker, SHYB, and other ways to waste time online

Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly annoyed with fatuous analysis, I go over to Gawker and laugh at people. (Feel free to make assumptions about my character based on my preference for Gawker over other sources -- say, People magazine -- for this purpose. I do. If you have alternative, better suggestions, I'm willing to listen.)

Sometimes, when I get through the recent coverage at Gawker that is amusing to me, I take a peek in at Jezebel. This rarely goes as well, so there's almost never a third site. However, this time, a reference at Jezebel led me to Stop Hating Your Body: http://stophatingyourbody.tumblr.com/. And _that_ turned into a huge time suck; I looked through the first 12 pages in some detail.

First, some background. There are (apparently) a lot of blogs and websites on the web that are devoted to body image issues. Some of these blogs and websites are intended to help people starve themselves. That's pretty awful, and most people commenting on these blogs and websites that are not themselves participating in that culture denounce it. Different people have different opinions about what precisely is the "disorder" part of eating "disorder", and some people think that measuring your size (whether in linear measurements or on a scale) can be part of the problem. One of the criticisms of SHYB is that many of the posts have pictures of people and they say how tall they are and how much they weigh, a characteristic shared with picture posts on pro-ana websites (also porn and articles about models). Obviously, whatever the eating disorder argument, the language used to talk about our physical natures, much less measuring our physical selves, risks objectification as well. (I'll probably cringe when I reread this later because I did it too.)

SHYB is _rife_ with objectification. But it is objectification that is a huge improvement over where people were before, and they are struggling with it. I think that picking on SHYB for objectification or for possibly setting off someone's struggles with eating disorders is probably missing the point. The posting guidelines indicate they have set some posting limits to avoid triggering cutting. More about that momentarily.

SHYB is _not_ about health. Here's the current mission statement:

"Our mission: to love ourselves, every last inch! To support others, help build positive self esteem! This is The Beauty Revolution!

This is a place of encouragement, a place to talk about body image, a place for feeling beautiful. No matter what you look like, what color, what gender, what size or however many "flaws", healthy, not healthy, working on it, we are all human, we all deserve to be happy, we all deserve to love ourselves. With this blog you will see all kinds of REAL bodies, REAL people, REAL stories."

Many (but not most) posters to SHYB say that they have one or more diagnoses. One of the common diagnoses is Borderline Personality Disorder (the wikipedia entry is pretty good), unsurprising given that SHYB is about body issues and many of the posters identify as self-harming. Mixed in with the (diagnosed and otherwise) Borderline Personality Disorders are people who have fungal toe issues (only they didn't realize it was a fungus so they covered it up with nail polish for years) or very large breasts or a genetic problem that causes tooth enamel to deteriorate or gained a lot of weight over the course of a pregnancy or whatever. After wading through a lot of stories of horrifying abuse (some of which set off my this-memoir-is-a-pack-of-lies meter), it's weirdly refreshing to run across someone who is psychologically more or less healthy but who is dealing with a body that is very, very different from an average body.

One of the pervasive, disturbing elements of SHYB for me is a particular kind of post: a young woman says she was abused by one or more people growing up and had one or more "flaws" or "issues" with her body and it wasn't until she was with this wonderful guy that she realized someone could really love her and her body. To be clear: not slamming romantic attachment or the guy in question. I really am not. But if you read any description at all of Borderline Personality Disorder, and you're listening to an eating-disordered abuse victim who admits to cutting and/or burning herself and she says there's this one guy who has saved her ....

Well, you know that at some point in the future, that guy is going to be the Devil Incarnate. Because that's how this disorder works.

If you check in at SHYB, and you read it for a while, and you're initially (or erratically) inspired by posts, only to be totally and completely weirded out by others, try to keep in the back of your head that while SHYB is for encouragement, that doesn't mean that you the reader need to somehow democratically feel inspired or encouraged by everyone. It's really okay to read some of this stuff and go, you are _totally_ making that crap up, or, you are such an attention seeker or why the hell would you think you have a problem? Or even to be suspicious that some of these people are posting because they've got some perverse desire to make everyone else feel worse because of how amazing they look. Your judgment -- like mine -- may be right some times and wrong some times and honestly, it does not really matter. I think it's really cool that SHYB exists, and I hope that it can find a way to maintain a balance of participants. If it turned into _all_ borderline personality disorder types, it would be a lot less appealing.