My stomach lurched when I realized that I had received my first 1-star Amazon review. Of course it did. What author doesn’t hope for solid 5-star ratings? And when you release a piece of yourself into the world in the form of a book, you make yourself very vulnerable and there is no way to know how people will respond. This is particularly true when that book is about our relationship with our bodies, and in which I disclose a lot about my own journey. But beyond losing my previous 5-star standing, it was actually the content of the review that I found the most disconcerting.
First, a little background. In Eat to Love: A Mindful Guide to Transforming Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Life, I attempt to make the point that our cultural programming has caused us to mistrust our bodies; to try to improve them by making them into projects; and to believe that they are not worthy of love, kindness, and respect unless they conform to a narrow standard of thinness, beauty, and desirability. This programming has come in many forms, including the diet culture, which is fueled by a patriarchal and commercial society that preys on women’s basic human desires to be seen, included, valued, and loved. In the first chapter of the book, I draw parallels between various events in history in which any progress by women is quickly followed by a backlash of some sort. Here’s the actual text:
“The business and politics of controlling women’s bodies are as old as commerce itself. Every time there is a progress for women, there is a commensurate backlash, usually focusing on our bodies. After the Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote came the flapper age, with bound breasts, “slimming” treatments, and idealization of the lithe physique of a preadolescent boy; this was the same era in which the first Miss America contest was introduced in Atlantic City. About the same time as the second-wave feminist movement was beginning in the 1960s, Weight Watchers was born and a model known as Twiggy was heralded as the epitome of female beauty. More recently in the 2010s, we had our first female presidential candidate in the U.S., someone who was the most qualified and prepared (male or female) to ever have run for that office. But instead we elected an inexperienced man whose claim to fame was being a reality TV star and sexual predator. You can’t make this stuff up. With every political, economic, and social gain for women, the retaliation has been swift and purposeful. The message is clear: Remember your place.”
When I sent an early version of my book to reviewers, some called attention to my referencing the 2016 election, cautioning me that it might offend some people. I considered removing (or at least softening) it, but chose to leave it in for very specific reasons I explained in my response to my one-star reviewer:
“Hi XXX and I’m sorry that line ruined the book for you… I considered [removing] it but then decided to keep it. If the point were just that a ‘he’ were elected rather than a ‘she,’ I wouldn’t have kept it. But it wasn’t that simple. Beyond NOT electing a ‘she,’ we collectively elected a ‘he’ that has abused, assaulted, and smeared women, publicly and unapologetically. That says something, about him, yes, but also about us and what we face. What we as women have learned to tolerate, internalize, and uphold. To be dehumanized, objectified, dismissed. I left that line in because this is totally related to how we see ourselves and relate to our bodies…”
Several other critics have panned the book because I “inserted my political views.” They contend that politics have no place in a book about eating and body image and I, by extension, have no place introducing them. With these critics, I disagree. The body is political. Healthcare, reproductive rights, citizenship, safety from violence, safe labor, the right to marry, equal pay, and employment protections are all regulated depending on the bodies we live in – male or female, gay or straight, black or brown or white, old or young, abled or disabled. All legislation is enacted on our bodies.
My statement wasn’t about Trump’s politics. It was about how he, and individuals like him, consistently harm women and women’s bodies. I draw the parallel between a woman running for the highest office in the land and our election of a man who consistently, intentionally, and unabashedly hurts women by abusing, objectifying, and denigrating them. We failed to elect any of the other 16 contenders (15 men and 1 woman) who did not have such a personal history of immoral behavior towards other humans. We chose him and therefore rewarded someone who grabs women “by the pussy” with the most powerful position in the country and perhaps the world.
I saw this specific aspect of the 2016 election as a slap-down to women, perpetuated not only by men, but by many, many other women. This slap-down came from women who are similarly harmed by systemic misogyny and who have internalized it, upheld it, and continue to perpetuate it by slapping down other women. In a way, my critics prove my point.
If you are reading this, I would like to engage with you. To hear your views and have the opportunity to further articulate mine. Ultimately this is not about Trump or Hillary but about how you relate to your body and how that affects how you live your life. I wrote Eat to Love to empower women. All women. Not just those who think the same things I do or who vote the same way I do. I ended my response to my one-star reviewer with:
“We are past the point of being apolitical. We need all different viewpoints and parties and involvement from all angles. But we also need to engage with one another sanely, humanely, and with basic decency. I do hope you one day come back to the book. The point is to respect and take care of your own body and self so that you can offer your gifts to the world. We need you as much as everyone else.”
I’m on my own path. Writing this book deepened and accelerated that process for me but it is far from over. I will continue on my own journey to replacing the self-aggression I learned from a confused culture with self-compassion, and I invite you into the conversation.