Friday, May 30, 2008

Guest Post: Book Review of Madness by Marya Hornbacher

A few weeks back, we put out the call for reader reviews of Marya Hornbacher's new book, Madness: A Bipolar Life. Our first submission comes from Margarita Tartakovsky.

Madness: A Bipolar Life

Bipolar disorder is commonly misunderstood and often goes undiagnosed. While the average age of onset is 23, a person with bipolar can go years without receiving the correct diagnosis — on average, until age 40.* And around 70 percent of bipolar sufferers are misdiagnosed at least once.

In her beautifully written memoir, Marya Hornbacher also spends years misdiagnosed, using alcohol, drugs and self-mutilation to control her moods and silence the madness, which will "push you anywhere it wants."She delves into the depths of her struggles, documenting with precision the demons she faces every day, wavering between this madness and deep, oftentimes painful, depression.

The book opens with her suicide attempt. With images of water, drowning and blurred reality, Hornbacher lets the reader leap immediately into her shoes, to feel the devastating rollercoaster of emotions and the very confusion she experiences on and off throughout the book. It becomes difficult to distinguish what's real, imagined, exaggerated or merely a dream:

"I drop the phone and give in to the tide and feel myself begin to drown. Their mouths move underwater, their voices glubbing up, Is there a pulse? and metal doors clang shut and I swim through space, the siren wailing farther and farther away."

Time frequently becomes confused, another constant that runs through the book — Hornbacher loses chunks of time, unsure if it's been minutes, hours, months or "maybe yesterday or maybe last year." Following the suicide attempt, at the hospital, she writes:

"I come to and black out. I come to and black out. This lasts forever, or it takes less than a minute, a second, a millisecond; it takes so little time that it does not happen at all; after all how could I be conscious of losing consciousness."

When Hornbacher attempts suicide at 20 years old, she has no idea she is bipolar. No medical professional has ever mentioned it, even though there are several times when she tells therapists about her racing thoughts, manic moods, alcohol abuse and cutting, but no one picks up on it. In fact, she's put on Prozac, a medication that can send bipolar patients swiftly on the road to mania: "Prozac makes me utterly manic and numb — one of the reasons I slice my arm open in the first place is that I'm cooked to the gills on something utterly wrong for what I have."

Though Hornbacher won't accept her diagnosis for some time and doesn't devote herself completely to recovery until years later, not having an accurate diagnosis until she's 24 shatters her life, leading her to self-medicate, to battle her bipolar alone with drugs and alcohol to quell the moods, anxiety and pain that cloud her mind.

She has many encounters with therapists, some of whom are pivotal in her recovery and others who dismiss her obvious pleas for help ("his wise and considered opinion is that I'm a very angry little girl"), neglecting to listen to what roars with red flags.

In one session, after Hornbacher explains that she can't take the mood swings or anxiety, that her "life is a nightmare" and that she isn't sure if her medication is working, the psychiatrist responds with, "I think the Depakote's working. You'd be in much worse shape if it weren't. I'll see you next week."

Just as quickly, the same psychiatrist dismisses her drinking binges:

Hornbacher: "[My friends] keep telling me I'm an alcoholic…I'm drinking an awful lot. Not that I want to stop. I have, however, begun to notice the vast difference between the way I drink and the way everyone else drinks. And everyone else in my life drinks quite a lot."

Psychiatrist: "I don't think you have a problem."

Hornbacher also explores the stigma of mental illness, ever-present in our society. Like a caste system, there are acceptable types of mental illness and the crazy types of mental illness. While depression is viewed sympathetically, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are shrouded in mystery with stereotypes of homeless people and criminals, running violently through the night. "Depression, that's one thing —lots of people have depression, and they're not crazy. Bipolar, schizophrenia — that's crazy. That's mental illness — the psychos, the nut cases, the incurably insane, the muttering bag ladies and bums, the freaks."

Along with the stigma, there's also a veil over therapy, oftentimes creating misconceptions about how mental illness is treated. During her various hospitalizations, Hornbacher describes her therapy sessions, the patients, the surroundings. As she starts to take her treatment seriously and focus on recovery, Hornbacher takes the reader through her daily regimen, which includes taking medication and supplements, documenting her moods in a journal, exercise and regular sleep.

Eventually, after years of confusion, anguish and blurred reality, Hornbacher is able to accept her diagnosis —"Managing mental illness is mostly about acceptance — of the things you can't do, and the things you must" — and herself —"I am who I am."

Hornbacher's book is painful and powerful, insightful and inspiring. She is brave and refuses to give up. It isn't easy, but it's possible; Hornbacher is an incredible example of that.

*As stated in Madness, which includes a resource section with statistics and information on bipolar disorder.

Margarita Tartakovsky is a freelance writer and editor. She holds an MS in Psychology from Texas A&M University, where she conducted research on disordered eating and body image and wrote for peer-reviewed psychology journals. She continues to explore these topics in her writing.

Tell Me What Retouching Is.

UPDATE: Embedding has been disabled, but follow this link to watch the spot.

This one gets me every time. Spread it around because this is what every girl needs to hear. Check out the other ads in this series, and give Girls Inc. some love while you're at it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Happy Birthday to Karin Collins, Creator of SpoonFed Art

Karin Collins started making collages as part of her recovery from an eating disorder. In 2004, she turned those collages into a full-fledged jewelry business called SpoonFed Art.

"With eating disorders in particular, talking through the issues sometimes isn't enough, and art opens up a whole new channel for the person to express themselves," Karin said in an interview with Yahoo. "I know that my creativity was stifled by the eating disorder, as were many other parts of myself, and it was freeing to be able to tap into it, and to realize that I was 'creating' my life in every minute."

Karin is doing a giveaway in honor of her birthday, so if you head over to her website and join her mailing list before the end of the month, you'll be automatically entered to win one of her pendants. Enjoy that well-decorated cake, Karin.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Royal Snarking

The royal family is swinging back after pictures of 19-year-old bikini-clad Princess Beatrice have been slammed in--where else?--The Daily Mail. "Can't someone buy that girl a sarong?" wrote Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson. "For her sake, as well as ours." Ouch. Need an example of what bodysnarking sounds like? Well, there you have it.

Beatrice's mom, Fergie (the Duchess, not Fergalicious), endured so much weight watching in the U.K. tabloids that she signed on to be a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers--likely her own way of deflecting all the nastiness. Now she is rightfully enraged that her daughter, who battled dyslexia and recently graduated high school with top honors, is getting the same not-so-royal treatment. "Touch me, fine, but don't touch my children," she says. "This woman [referring to Pearson], I would like to go to her house, to see her family. Should we focus on her derriere?" [New York Daily News]

Friday, May 23, 2008

It's Not Just Fashion and Hollywood. It's the Music Industry, Too.

In an interview with The Guardian, Alannis Morissette reveals that a record executive's comments about her weight triggered a bout with bulimia. "[He] suggested I was getting too fat, saying, 'You need to go on a diet.' My response was, 'But I'm a singer.' He said, 'Yes, well, you need to get small again.' That started a whole cycle. Two days later I was sticking my fingers down my throat."

Morissette, who is working on a memoir that will cover "sexuality, beauty, relationships and work", has struggled with low self-esteem and perfectionism for most of her life. Her problems with anorexia and bulimia began when she was sixteen, and becoming famous didn't help. "[F]ame is tough to navigate when your relationship with yourself is still healing, and the rupture is festering and bleeding in public," she says.

Giving up that quest to be perfect is a big part of getting healthy, but being an imperfect, independent-minded woman in the entertainment industry doesn't win you too many friends with the higher ups. "It's such a common, daily thing I don't even notice it any more," she says. "It's scary for them, especially if there's money involved. I'm a liability to them - I'm a woman, I'm empowered, I'm an artist. I've had executives who can't come to my shows they're so scared of me. I've been a thorn in many people's sides just by existing." [Guardian]

Fox News Channel Covers Bodysnarking

Yes, that is me on the Fox News Channel talking about bodysnarking. Did you ever think you would hear Bill O'Reilly's channel applaud Jezebel for taking a "firm moral position"? Well, it happened. I swear. Watch the above for proof.

Related: The Rise of Bodysnarking

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Happy Turn Beauty Inside Out Day!

Today is Turn Beauty Inside Out Day, a national initiative launched in 2000 by New Moon Magazine and coordinated by the non-profit organization Mind on the Media. This is a collaborative effort to foster participation, discussion, and awareness of girls' images in the media. Girls and boys (not to speak of women and men) need a definition of beauty that focuses on who they are and what they do, not on how they look. Here's how you can celebrate:

1. Request your free Turn Beauty Inside Out Action Kit.
2. Donate to the Turn Beauty Inside Out Campaign.
3. Know any students ages 12-16? Encourage them to enter the Turn Beauty Inside Out essay contest! Here's the essay question:

"There have been arguments that the media has portrayed/covered the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign differently because she is a woman. Do you agree with that statement? Why or Why not?"

Essays must be 500 words or less and received by June 30, 2008 via email to .
1st Prize - $200 2nd Prize - $100 3rd Prize - $50
The winning essay will be distributed nationally during the Turn Beauty Inside Out campaign. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

This Is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes

Photographer Rosanne Olson has put together a stunning collection of nude portraits that succeeds in illuminating how beauty is really about storytelling. So often, women fixate on what they lack or what they wish they could be. In This Is Who I Am, Olson focuses her lens on the experiences, struggles, triumphs, and questions inscribed on the faces and bodies of the women she photographs. And in their own words, they tell us who they are.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Rise of Bodysnarking

Check out Hannah Seligson's Wall Street Journal article on bodysnarking. You know, those mean comments about women's bodies we've been discussing around these parts recently. I'm quoted in the article, along with these kick-ass ladies who are also raising awareness about this issue. [Wall Street Journal]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wowsa. "Full-Figured" Whitney is America's Next Top Model

Here is Whitney in her "grunge" look. Frankly, I think a Lamestain t-shirt would have been more convincing. But I digress. She's America's Next Top Model! Yay! We'll see her in some embarrassingly awkward Cover Girl commercials that will run during next season's show, she'll be on the cover of Seventeen, and so much more!

Despite my sarcasm, I must admit that I am genuinely excited about this. It's about time Tyra let a girl with a normal-looking body take the grand prize. "This should not be called plus-sized or full-figured. This should just be called beautiful," said Paulina Porizkova when congratulating Whitney on her win. And I think we should all take Paulina seriously on that one. Even though she was wearing a tiara when she said it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Teen Model Alexandra Michael Talks About Her Eating Disorder

18-year-old Alexandra Michael shares the story of her eating disorder in the current issue of Teen Vogue. In this Today Show segment, she talks about being backstage at a fashion show and admitting to a group of young models (women in their late teens and early 20s, she says) that she hadn't gotten her period in over a year. One by one, the other young women piped up to say, "Me neither." Bottom line: Alexandra's story is not an isolated incident. This is not just one extreme, aberrant case. It is a widespread industry problem.

The Cookie Diet? Really?

Cookies are getting some serious hype in Los Angeles these days. One of my modeling agents mentioned to me that another model recently dared to walk into the agency's office with a cookie in her hand. So of course, as any conscientious agent would do, she proceeded to grill said model. Was she out of her mind to be eating a cookie in her state (apparently this slender, young thing "needed" to be on a diet)? Well, as if all was natural and good in the world, that model informed my agent that it was A-okay because this wasn't just any cookie--this was the cookie diet.

The model munched on the cookie and proclaimed that she could eat these all day, have a strict dinner, and the pounds would melt off. "Had I heard anything about this?" asked my bewildered agent. I could not believe the irony of a situation in which my modeling agent was actually asking for my thoughts on a fad diet. I pinched myself, then I called Claire to vent and do some research.

It wasn't hard to find information about the cookie diet. There are many versions, but the original was developed by Dr. Sanford Siegal in the 1970s. The kind doctor pretty much admits that his cookies taste like ass ("They taste good but we wouldn't call them delicious. Delicious cookies make people fat," he says on his website), but we had to dig a little deeper to find the real secret of how these cookies make people lose weight. Turns out that if you eat the prescribed number of cookies instead of, oh, actual meals, followed by a low-calorie dinner, you'll be consuming about 800 calories a day. That's what I (and any responsible doctor) would call starvation.

The next day I go to check out some houses with my realtor, and what does he ask me? Do I know anything about this amazing diet he just checked out online? It sounds really good. It's called...the cookie diet. At this point, I was half expecting Ashton Kutcher to jump out of the bushes. What is it with these ridiculous fad diets? Most of the time they're old diets repackaged to sound new and exciting. And if any of them actually worked, we would surely know by now.

Why would any person with even a shred of intelligence take this diet (or any other fad diet) seriously? I think the answer lies not just in our desperation to lose weight, but in the belief that we can trust in products that have a doctor's stamp of approval. On some level, we still believe that doctors are here to help people, and whenever a doctor or a person with all the right credentials comes up with a new diet, miracle pill, or exercise plan, too many of us trust that they wouldn't recommend something dangerous or harmful. After all, isn't that their vocation? Isn't there that "First, do no harm" oath they have to take?

Well, I said goodbye to the era of the supermodel a while ago, and I think we're in a new era of medicine, too. It's not one I'm too happy about. There are still plenty of good guys (and gals) out there, but I feel like more doctors are out to make a buck than ever before. We have the insurance companies and our out-of-whack health care system to thank for that. Which is why, when I was waiting in my OBGYN's office last week, I looked around the room and saw pamphlets about Botox, vein removal, hair removal, and all sorts of things that have nothing to do with gynecology. And it scared me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Madness: A Bipolar Life

Marya Hornbacher's account of her struggle with anorexia and bulimia was documented in her 1997 bestselling memoir, Wasted. More than ten years later, Hornbacher has a deeper understanding of how her eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, cutting, and erratic mood swings were part of another diagnosis: bipolar disorder. In her new book, Madness: A Bipolar Life, Hornbacher writes all of these behaviors into the context of her mental illness.

Time magazine
has an interesting interview with Hornbacher. Though the interviewer can't resist asking her about just how low her weight dropped when she was anorexic, Hornbacher manages to turn the typical sensational "You were HOW skinny?!" line of questioning around:

"One thing that I didn't realize at the time, that I became aware of later, is that bulimia is just as dangerous. A low weight isn't the only thing that kills you. Eating disorders in any form are incredibly dangerous..."

Check out the full interview, and if anyone is interested in reviewing the book and writing a guest post, please get in touch.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Retoucher Pascal Dangin Clarifies His Relationship With Dove

Yesterday Claire wrote about the New Yorker profile of Pascal Dangin, in which he is quoted as saying he worked on the Dove ads that feature women in their underwear. In fact, Dangin was not hired by Dove, but by Annie Leibovitz--the photographer who shot the photos of women in the Dove ProAge campaign.

"The 'real women' ad referenced in recent media coverage was created and produced entirely by Ogilvy, the Dove brand’s advertising agency, from start to finish and the women’s bodies were not digitally altered," according to a statement released by Dove today.

"Let's be perfectly clear - Pascal does all kinds of work - but he is primarily a printer - and only does retouching when asked to. The idea for Dove was very clear at the beginning. There was to be NO retouching and there was not," Leibovitz said in the statement.

Mr. Dangin responded, “The recent article published by The New Yorker incorrectly implies that I retouched the images in connection with the Dove 'real women' ad. I only worked on the Dove ProAge campaign taken by Annie Leibovitz and was directed only to remove dust and do color correction – both the integrity of the photographs and the women’s natural beauty were maintained.”

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Who's Your BlogHer Hero?

Nominate your favorite blogger for BlogHer's contest. They're judging on three criteria:
  • Passion
  • Innovation
  • Ability to inspire a community

Got a blog in mind? Submit your nomination by May 31st!

Meet Pascal Dangin, Master Retoucher

This week's New Yorker features a lengthy profile of Pascal Dangin, written by Lauren Collins. While you might not know Pascal's name, you've certainly seen his work. He's the fashion industry's go-to guy for retouching. His magazine clients include Vogue, Italian Vogue, French Vogue, Vanity Fair, Allure, the list goes on. He's also retouched ads for Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Victoria's Secret, and Dove (That ad with real women in their underwear? His job. "Do you know how much retouching was on that? But it was a great job to do, a challenge, to keep everyone's skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive," Dangin said.). Photographers including Annie Liebovitz, Steven Meisel, and Marrio Sorrenti rarely work with anyone but Dangin.

What I find most interesting about this article is that up until this point, Dangin has been famously close-mouthed. The last interview I'm aware of is from 2003, when he told Kate Betts, "I never want to talk about my work, because it's kind of taboo. The people who benefit from my work do not benefit from me talking about it.'' But here he is letting Collins into his studio to see his client list and talking openly about jobs he would have done differently had he been given free rein. Dangin was responsible for making Madonna's arms look less muscular for the April cover of Vanity Fair. "It's not a failure because she was very happy with the way she looked, and the magazine loved it," he said. "Would I have done less personally? Yes." Does Dangin's willingness to spill all his secrets represent a cultural shift in the awareness of the practice of retouching? Clearly he doesn't feel it's so taboo to talk about his work anymore. Perhaps he's so confident in his professional reputation that he knows his clients will hire him regardless of whether or not he talks to the press. But I suspect that they just don't care as much as they might have cared five years ago.

It used to be that the path to creating all those perfect images was a big mystery to be guarded and protected. Now the cat's out of the bag. The general public has a basic understanding of how retouching works. And while we might not like it, we get that it happens. That knowledge represents two big positives as far as I see it:

1. We can start giving ourselves a break. Dangin spends hours making already gorgeous models look superhuman. That "unattainable ideal" phrase is no joke, people.

2. We can educate the kids. Read the article and pass the info along to the youngsters in your life. Talk to them about Dangin's work and help them understand that images in magazines and on billboards are not reflections of what real people look like.

[New Yorker]