No Shortage of Diet Books
I am obese. I believe very strongly that my attempts to control my size throughout my life has brought me to this shape. I have suffered every eating disorder known to man--and some that are only now being classified as such. Years of dieting and following external rules around my food intake has created such havoc in my life that it is taking me even more time to unravel the mess it has left in my brain and on my self esteem.
Detail Portrait Falling Out All Over Installation
Falling Out All Over Installation with viewer Univeristy of Michgan May 2008
My current installation project, No Shortage of Diet Books
, uses my vast collection of diet books as my medium. Every few years until 2000 I would decide that dieting was not working for me. I was never going to do it again, I declared, and I would lug all my diet books to the used bookstore. But in a very short time, my shelves would inevitably be full of them again.
This collection would just creep up on me uninvited as I listened to the media telling me that there was something very wrong with me because I did not look or weigh a certain amount. I bought it hook, line and sinker. I was a failure. I was worthless. I was unattractive. And I had to do something about it or I was not fit to walk the earth.
It is horrible to feel like that--never being able to find clothes in your size and feeling out of place. I was told that it is something I could change and I was determined to do so. If I just worked hard enough... and followed a food plan... and ate foods only in a particular order... The list went on.
In the end I knew so much about nutrition, and yet, I could not hear the natural signals of hunger or satiety coming from my own body. Foods that I once enjoyed like vegetables and fruits now were classified as diet foods and if I was eating them I was "good" and, if I wasn't, I was "bad".
My head was so full of nonsensical rules and magical thinking that to this day there are foods that I cannot eat without having flashbacks or fears that they will make me bloat up or gain weight. Foods as wonderful as fresh grapes and pineapple, for example, were destroyed by months of following the Beverly Hills Diet.
Several years ago, I saw a very short-lived commercial that was yet again advertising a new diet program. The company whose name I have since forgotten appropriated the image of the Venus of Willendorf, formerly used by the feminist movement in the 1960s to empower women around topics of fertility, freedom of choice, and the possibility that there was once a culture on this planet that worshiped women as a deities and matriarchs. This ad now had turned this feminist icon against the women it had earlier empowered. It was being used to illustrate what we would not like to look like.
I was furious. I decided at that moment that I would take back that icon as my own, even if I had to do so single-handedly. It very clearly represents me. If I was to look at women depicted in art history and had to say which one I looked most like, it is indeed the Venus of Willendorf with her sagging breasts and full stomach. This is my body after years of dieting, disordered eating, two children, and the natural course of aging. I have to accept myself the way I am and honor myself here if I am ever to recover and find balance again.
When looking at women's needs globally, dieting may seem trite. But the tyranny of slenderness is just another way to keep women in their place--weak and full of self-loathing. These diets and their social standards have kept women down, quiet and hungry. I will not allow myself to be treated like this anymore.
Diets do not work no matter what new name they're given, nor does it make a difference if you do it for your health or for vanity. We must stop listening to the voices that tell us we are wrong and we can't manage our own bodies and lives. The knowledge is within each one of us. We are all beautiful as we are and we can be healthy at many diverse sizes. There is no one right size.
The photos I include here were taken to accompany an essay I authored about my installation, which will be published in Collecting and the Internet: Essays on the Pursuit of Old Passions through the use of Technology, e
dited by Susan Koppelman and Alison Frank. The title of the book might suggest a rather narrow market, but I feel my essay deals with a very broad issue in our current society--the issue of obesity and the so-called "war" against it. They were so powerful that I have decided to use them as part of the installation as well.
If my story resonates with yours at all, send me your diet books to add to my project. I have created an inventory of all the books and I am one by one destroying them by ripping out each page and repurposing them in my artwork. Send me a message
to request the address.