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Perfectionism

Perfectionism

Mini does this thing where he goes through the basket of cars at school and looks on the bottom of each car to determine whether or not they are branded with the Hot Wheels logo or not. I have decided that this is more evidence of his genius because I did not show him that there was branding on the bottom of the cars for Hot Wheels, it’s something he figured out on his own.

“See, Mama, it says, “HOT WHEELS!”
“Yeah, it does, buddy.
“This one is not Hot Wheels, though.”
“No.”
“But this one is.”

It is important to note here that Mini will play with the non-Hot Wheels cars, but he prefers the Hot Wheels ones. More important than anything, of course, is just the identification of which ones are Hot Wheels and which ones aren’t, and actually if you look at the cars carefully, you can start to identify differences between them even before you look on the bottom to see if they are Hot Wheels or not. [Now might be a good time to pause and point out, again, that this is not a sponsored post, it just so happens that my kid has become fixated on the Hot Wheels brand. Sue me, FTC.]

People are never as impressed by Mini’s genius for noticing detail as I am. Though by now I’m used to people failing to be as impressed by my child as I am, it still seems like this is an unusual attention to detail for a three year old. Sure, Mini is a child of consumer culture, as we all are, but the branding is pretty obscure on these cars: you have to be looking pretty closely to see this logo. I remember discussing something like this with one of the grandparents and having them say, “Well, if something is important to him, then he is going to pay close attention,” a comment that I felt betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the common male preschooler’s psyche. When I arrive to pick up Mini at preschool, many of the boys are attempting to bludgeon each other with large sticks and Mini is identifying tiny logos on the bottoms of small cars! Surely he is destined to be a rocket scientist! Why is nobody backing me up on this?

Why is it so important to me that everyone recognizes Mini is a genius the way that I do? Why is it so important to Mini to figure out which cars are Hot Wheels and which cars are not? I don’t know. We like to have things the way we like them. We have that in common.

+++++++++++++++

I don’t know how exactly, but I feel like this is somehow related to that stupid Marie Claire article that everyone is all up in arms about, and that I can’t get upset about, no matter how hard I try. I really want to be upset about it. I do. I’m trying really hard to be upset about it, but I’m not. (If you haven’t heard about the article, it’s here, and responses are everywhere, but I found Deb’s to be particularly insightful.) I’m not a fan of any kind of writing that makes innocent people feel bad about themselves, and this post did that, but so does writing of all kinds, every day. It is not something I like, but it happens all of the time, to all kinds of people. It has been argued that overweight people are among the last groups of people against whom it is still socially “acceptable” to discriminate and I do think there is some truth to that, though I might add Southerners to that list as well if we are talking about making jokes or writing hateful things on the internet.

So, while I don’t like the article, and agree that it’s remarkably out of touch and tone deaf, I just cannot get into the outrage mode that so much of the internet seems to be into this week over the article, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. The easiest explanation is that I live in Los Angeles and I’ve heard that kind of thinking articulated for the better part of my life and it’s almost second nature to me now, but I’m not sure that this is the problem. As I’ve written here before, I have issues with my own body and struggle with my own body acceptance constantly; though I do not think about other overweight people in the manner they are discussed in that post, I do think about myself that way, and I think that may be the problem. I don’t know that this is the problem that the writer has, given that she is a thin person writing about people she sees as morbidly obese, but as a person who is unhappy in their own body and has been for the whole of their life, I can say that I think about my own body in the terms that she used to describe the bodies of other people, and perhaps that is why I’m not so outraged. Those words sounded normal to me, because they are the words I use to talk to myself.

Now, using them on somebody else is a whole other thing entirely. I know that somebody is going to say, “But if you use them on yourself, and you ‘only’ weigh X, then that means,” BUT we are not talking about reality here. We are talking about the messed up mind of a perfectionist and what happens with body dysmorphia. I don’t know that this has anything to do with what that writer was thinking at all, because I don’t know her, and I do know I’d never write anything like what she wrote. But reading it and thinking about why I couldn’t react, when so many other people felt they needed to, was illuminating.

Comments (14)

  1. Oct 28, 2010

    Ugh – I had heard about the MC article but this was the first time I read it. What a mess. You know, someone sent me a subscription to Allure as a gift and I throw it in the trash without even opening the plastic wrap. All those magazines are just junk that make people feel bad about themselves. And the endless promotion of the best hair cut, lipstick, the ONE coat you need for fall… whatever.
    And yes, living in LA can be tough on the body image – we’re always surrounded by the youngest, prettiest things. But eh, youth is fleeting.
    And for the record, I also think my child is a genius!

  2. Oct 28, 2010

    I read the MC article when I saw someone link to it, and to me it was the equivalent of hearing the rantings of a crazy person, an extremist outlier — I dismissed it out of hand, because it was so absurdly over the top and grossly offensive. I appreciate the writings of others in response to the piece, sure. But just as I don’t bother to write angry letters to Fox News about the ravings of conservative pundits, even when their views are like punches directly in my face, I didn’t feel compelled to compose a response to the women’s fashion magazine — daily launcher and reinforcer of millions of women’s feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy — that published it. Maybe that’s the wrong way to react, though, as it doesn’t foment awareness or change.

    Mini’s level of focus and attention to detail IS impressive. It’s especially so because it’s not like you tried to get him to do it; it’s just how he is. I think it’s so fascinating to watch children’s personalities and intellect emerge.

  3. Oct 28, 2010

    What I keep coming back to is that overweight men have been making out with attractive women on tv for ages (King of Queens, According to Jim, The Sopranos, even) and while I question anyone who finds a couple of those shows entertaining, no one questions that those men have a right to an on-screen romantic relationship but add an overweight woman to the mix and things change.

    The truth is there is a difference between society’s acceptance of overweight men and overweight women and that’s where I get bugged.

    Men are so much more than their appearances while women just aren’t … both to society and, really, to ourselves.

    Eh, that’s nothing new or revolutionary, I know, but it’s what I keep coming back to: this isn’t an obesity issue, this is a gender issue.

  4. Oct 28, 2010

    Well, that’s the thing, those magazines are always about beauty and difficult-to-obtain perfection. So, you know, a fat-hating article? Seemed about right in my mind, I guess.

  5. Oct 28, 2010

    It would be kind of like writing to Fox News or to a Tea Party person. I guess the main difference here was that people expected, what? Marie Claire is supposed to be on our side? But they clearly are not. So, I don’t know. I don’t get it.

  6. Oct 28, 2010

    Right, the only difference here is that they dared to put an overweight woman on TV, and that IS reflective of societal change, IMO. That is the thing that is kind of ironic about the whole thing. The article was prompted by something that was actually progressive in the first place, that this show has that actress in it. Now, from what I understand, the show itself is not progressive at all, because it makes fat jokes and all that — but just having that woman as the lead actress alone, without looking at anything else, is a big deal, and the anxiety it causes is probably why this whole Marie Claire crap happened in the first place.

  7. Oct 28, 2010

    The Marie Claire thing is just so…ugh. I know it’s fun to work oneself into a righteous lather, but why not just vote with your purchase by not giving them page views and refusing to buy their magazine? A discussion needs to be had about the politics of size and gender on and off of television, yes, but people can bring this issue to light without giving MC any further attention (which, if you ask me, is exactly what they were looking for).

    Like you, I wasn’t at all shocked and appalled by what she said. Maybe because I’m from New York? I just have a hard time being angry with someone whose opinions are so clearly informed by her own insecurities. Would anyone in their right mind attach their name to that without thinking that there would be consequences? Would any editor allow a piece of that nature to see the light of day without ulterior motives? Innocuous opinion post that got out of hand, my foot.

  8. Oct 28, 2010

    I reacted much the same as Lawyerish. But then, I’m not much of a write letters to the editor type–I generally just don’t see it as doing much good. Frankly, MC got what they want most, which is attention and readership, and nothing we say one way or the other is going to make them change that.

    But I think much of the public outrage is because it perpetuates the cycle in people who already have body issues and so pretty much go, “Yup, that’s right, what that person is saying, while fucked up and crazy mean and nothing I’d ever say to anyone else, well I say that to myself on a regular basis.” As if it’s not bad enough to say it to yourself, someone else saying it gives it that much more validity. And while the sentiment may not be new, it’s rare to see it written in SUCH vitriolic language, so out in the open, you know?

  9. I’m a proud Carolina Girl. THANK YOU for sticking up for the South!! I am sick of the stereotypes. Meh. There are plenty of intelligent, progressive, and cultured citizens of our state. (I’ll include myself in that number, since modesty isn’t one of my strong points). And if we all left, who would be there?

    As for Marie Claire, it’s such a blatant link-bait that I can’t work up much energy about it. I’m far more offended by shows where size zero women are dating obese men, as you pointed out. I simply refuse to watch shows like this.

    I’m cool with the Sopranos because women are willing to overlook figure flaws for money and glamour. Fact, no point in hiding in the sand. But shows where Mr. Average is married to Mrs. Average who is a former catalog model or something disgust me.

  10. Oct 28, 2010

    So interesting. I wasn’t shocked at all, or offended or hurt. As a fat, gay, Southerner… yeah, I hear plenty and don’t fuel on outrage. I think the MC story was a perfect storm–such blatant traffic-mongering, published at the apex of anti-bullying messages, troublingly from an anorexic-damaged perspective (which is a point people have been trying to make about fat bashing for a while but rarely is it this obvious), and from a source safe for bloggers to speak out against (mainstream womens mag–because calling out equally obnoxious fellow bloggers is risky and has a long tail.) Then it built up speed as people read and felt connected to others’ stories. I don’t know if was marked by outrage as much as by a community-meme way to take a stand against dehumanizing, sexist crap. Less “i’m full of rage at this” than “This is outrageous and enough is enough.” I’ve found it fascinating to think about and watch others think about, and your perspective makes a lot of sense. (thanks for the shout- out!)

  11. Oct 29, 2010

    I am struck by the dichotomy of what you and I get outraged by. 🙂

  12. Oct 29, 2010

    What I would really like to see is an intelligent TV sitcom (perhaps mutually exclusive ideas?) about a successful overweight woman married to a buff, intelligent, successful younger man. Cast Kathy Bates and, oh, Matthew McConaughey? That would really get people into a tizzy.

    I think the assignment of the Marie Claire post to Maura Kelly was so cynical as to be almost laughable. The assigning editor knew exactly what she was going to get from recovering-anorexic Kelly, including all of the subsequent furor. (I’m not so sure about Kelly herself; she may be so immersed in her own perspective and illness that she didn’t anticipate the magnitude of the backlash.) But Marie Claire is lapping the response up, congratulating themselves on the traffic, links, blog posts, comments, coverage by other media, etc.

    Having been, at one point in my life, an obese person, I know that Kelly’s shameful and shaming comments only make it all worse. If you are fat and think you’re loathsome, what have you got to lose by eating a bag of cookies?

    On the other hand, all fashion magazines seem to encourage women to really dislike themselves (which I wrote about on my infrequently updated blog: http://reidisreading.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/the-story-of-o/). No getting around it. The longing you feel for those shoes, that body, that makeup, etc., is the way the magazines sell themselves and their advertising. You just have to be aware, if you’re going to indulge in some hair salon reading, that there are side effects.

    *****

    As for Mini, I’ve got to think he’s kind of precocious in his Hot Wheels obsession. My son (age 4 1/2) has just become enamored of Hot Wheels. But he makes me do all the brand identification–he hasn’t learned how to recognize the tiny logo on his own. I sometimes wish I could bring myself to lie and say the Matchbox cars in his collection (started before the preference for Hot Wheels emerged) are Hot Wheels. It would make life simpler, if less honest.

  13. Michelle
    Oct 29, 2010

    People just aren’t impressed by the same things in kids, really. I am perpetually fascinated by my daughter’s language acquisition skills, which other people seem to miss the point of (No- I’m not excited that she says octopus, I’m excited that she’s identified a picture of a real octopus I’ve only identified cartoon octopuses for her.) But I’ve had acquaintances take pictures of her drinking from a cup (No sippy cup? Amazing!) which I completely take for granted because she’s always wanted to do things the way the adults around her do.

    I’m sure there’s stuff Mini does that other people think is amazing that you don’t even think about. And they just don’t get how identifying hot wheels is exciting, they’re just not wired that way.

    Which is to say, different people find different things interesting.

  14. Cathy
    Oct 30, 2010

    1. “Now, using them on somebody else is a whole other thing entirely.”

    Yes, true, in so far as that’s the essential definition of decency — if you can’t help reacting violently and unjustly against something, then you can at least do the work of keeping of keeping your destructive feelings to yourself.

    But I’m not so sure that it’s possible to compartmentalize self-loathing from loathing others quite so neatly — at the very least, I’d say that one powerful motivation to be kinder and more generous to yourself is that it will change the way you relate to other people. That is, in my own case, I do think of challenging my own body-hatred as an obligation I have to other people. I’m just not confident that it doesn’t spill over in subtle ways — I mean, Maura Kelly *really* thinks she isn’t a sizeist jerk, and she’s deluded, of course, but I don’t think I’m immune to that kind of delusion.

    2. It’s funny — I’ve been surprised by how little I care about whether other people value my daughter’s extraordinary qualities in the same way I do, because, man, do I know from perfectionism and the need for affirmation, but there’s something beautiful and meaningful about knowing that those responses are subjective, and that they belong to us as parents. I mean, I really want those stick-bashing boys to have parents who walk in the pick them up and think, how is it possible that nobody comments on the grace with which my little guy bashes stuff with sticks — he is like the Baryshnikov of stick-bashers! My daughter is shy and awkward and not a soul at her preschool knows that she can draw incredibly well because at school she gets overwhelmed and just scribbles — and, yeah, part of me wishes they knew, but part of me also feels like this is the privilege of parenting, to see and love those almost hidden talents and quirks, and to feel a delight that other people don’t.

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