Monday, September 21, 2009

How we've changed, continued

Karen Carpenter with her beloved drum kit. She was capable and confident while playing, but when she was forced to come out from behind the drums, front the band and wear dresses, that's when trouble really began. Photo from


Yes, I'm here to weigh in, once again, as an official old-timer chronicling How things have changed (belated-birthday edition).

Posts on this Feministe thread talked about weight gain:

College does not make it easy for people who struggle with issues with food. Eating disorders are rampant, but rarely discussed. We’re all familiar with the glance to a friend’s plate, to see whether she is eating macaroni and cheese or salad, and the implicit self-judgment that follows
We are? No, we aren't... and then I realized this is another age (class?) difference.

I don't remember growing up with this dynamic at all.

We didn't monitor each other. Even those of us trying to get thinner in dangerous ways, totally personalized this endeavor as our own private failure, and I don't remember paying any attention to what other girls ate, except to be jealous that they could "eat anything they wanted"--while I never could. I remember all of their ice-cream sundaes, but little else. (We didn't even know about healthy vs. unhealthy fats in those days.) Was this my working-class environment or the era I grew up in?

Back in the day, I recall eating disorders as way under the radar, and consequently, very easy to get by with. As a teenager, I starved myself repeatedly, and nobody noticed anything but the end result, for which I was widely praised. (Nowadays? They'd be onto me in 10 minutes.)

Karen Carpenter's increasingly-alarming, wispy frame was not remarked upon, except to say "Wow!"; people would say she was "dieting" too much. Because she was such a well-known, perfect, archetypal "good girl"--her death had an enormous impact on everyone.

Carpenter's death took recognition of anorexia into the mainstream, just as her music had been so accessible and mainstream.


MAD MEN continues to do a fabulous job in contrasting NOW with THEN. In the recent episode, we learn that a man who lost his foot to a riding mower (hilarious gallows humor) will also lose his job, all because of his disability: "He'll never golf again!"--may be the best line I ever heard. But anyone startled by that should remember, that is indeed the way it was in 1962. If they didn't like your disability, they could legally get rid of you for that reason alone.

Betty Draper's nightmarish birth experience (after smoking and drinking like a Rat Pack-member throughout her pregnancy), was another historically-accurate and thoroughly instructive exercise in How Things Have Changed. My mother, aunts, cousins and millions of other American women gave birth under such cruel, punishing circumstances during this era.

And remember: feminists radically changed the birth-experience for women, not pro-life fundies.


The ease and omnipresence of cell phones has made decades of phone-jokes and comedy routines (in vintage movies and television shows), truly incomprehensible to the kids. They don't quite understand how it was to get calls from people you don't know. They also don't understand that once upon a time, talking on the phone all the time was regarded as rude as hell, as well as socially inept and backward (like a teenybopper). Old movies such as Woody Allen's Play it Again Sam, in which Tony Roberts (movie-still at left) is constantly calling his answering service to leave his call-back number, was riotously funny back in the 70s... while also simultaneously communicating the idea that Roberts was unbelievably self-centered and narcissistic. But now? What, the kids wonder, is wrong with Roberts' behavior? OMG, the man must track down his unreturned calls!!!!


I am reminded of the social mores of the past that I regret losing...and phones in their proper place is one of these.

Not everything from the past was bad, you know. ;)


I got both a rainy day and a Monday...

Re: this video. Nobody could look good in that dress, why didn't somebody put her in some DECENT CLOTHES?! Always tried to make her look like some damn choirgirl. growf!

Rainy Days and Mondays - The Carpenters


JoJo said...

Well I was born in 1964 and my smother made damn sure that I was on a diet constantly, from when I was a child. Her constant "you could be so pretty if" statements went a long way to destroying my self esteem. To this day, I refuse to look in a mirror and I refuse to have my photo taken anymore. My dr. told me that the constant diets screwed up my metabolism and put me into a very slow permanent starvation mode.

I mean seriously, who puts a 12 y/o child on 1200 calories a day? My smother, that's who. Even when I was a kid, my food was monitored. "That has so many calories" was heard so often that it was just easier to do w/o than to listen to her go on and on about how fat I was and going to be. I only started using butter on vegetables and potatoes after I got married.

I never did the anorexia/bulimia thing, surprisingly, but I was definitely made to feel like a piece of shit compared to my thin friends.

Ann oDyne said...

dear Dais: your proof-reader here
'Re: this video. Nobody could look in that dress'.
Proof readers gone too, spell-check has many failures, and only encourages illiteracy.
I recall the Tony Roberts character well, and wonder if now, Woody is on his cellphone much.
I will admit to being a closet Carpenters fan - who doesn't love that beautiful Paul Williams song 'We've Only Just Begun; White lace and promises, a kiss for luck and we're on our way'? It grew out of a TV commercial tune.
Back when eating disorders were under the radar, a real lot of other stuff was under it too.
There was a lot of hidden fear in our society prior to about 1966.
It made US (you and me) what we are today.
peace and love from this old hippie

berryblade said...

Sadly Eating Disorders aren't always picked up on quickly. Especially at a private all-girls school - the competition is wanted, nay, encouraged which imho is really fucked up.

I love the Carpenters though ;)

DaisyDeadhead said...

Ann oDyne, I corrected it! I was blocking GOOD as in "nobody could look good in that dress"... wow, what would Freud say. ;)

DaisyDeadhead said...

And thank you for the correction!

Sungold said...

Daisy, I think it's a generational thing. I grew up lower-middle-class but I went to an elite private college starting in 1981. It the kind of place that must be a serious pressure cooker today. While we were aware that some of our dormmates had bulimia - this was of course after Karen Carpenter died - I don't recall any of the women ever checking out other women's plates. We pigged out on cookies during finals week and it was all about sisterly bonding.

Now, my female students at a public Midwestern university tell me that there's lots of plate policing afoot. They volunteer this info. I don't drag it out of them. So I believe them.

I did adore the Carpenters, and even now I own a Carpenters piano songbook along with a couple of their vinyl LPs.

thene said...

We are? No, we aren't...

Me either, and I'm 24 - if 'plate policing' is a generational thing either I'm already old enough to have completely missed it, or it's culturally specific to (or just much more prevalent in) the USA.

Rootietoot said...

JoJo- I hear you. I was born in 1965, and endured the "well, it's a good thing you're smart because you'll never be pretty" and the
"*sigh* you could be so pretty if only you weren't so heavy"... excuse me? at 16 I was a size what world is that heavy? I don't look in mirrors either. it's just too painful. I don't remember my friends scoping my plate, but then we were all pretty much of a size. I do remember wanting enchiladas and getting lettuce.

mikeb302000 said...

I put people with severe eating disorders in the same category with addicts and alcoholics. And I have a soft spot for the ones who didn't make it, especially the musical artists of my generation.

Thanks for the post on Karen.

Sarah J said...

I was born in 1980, and my experience was less "plate policing" and more "why the hell are my friends suddenly afraid to eat in front of boys?"

I don't remember people commenting on what I was eating as if I should stop, but I do remember them sighing and saying "I wish I could eat that" or carefully sipping Diet Coke slowly so they could make it last through the lunch period and not eat.

No one ever said out loud "I can't believe you're going to eat that" but they did look at their own plates and take less. And less. Or nothing.

JoJo said...

Rootietoot - It sucked having to grow up like that didn't it? I look back at photos of myself when I was young and I was not fat. I was big, but not fat. I just wasn't one of those teeny tiny willowy girls. I come from a line of short, stocky Italian women.

Dina said...

I had an eating disorder in my early 30's. I was heavily praised for all the weight loss.

Gnatalby said...

I don't remember food policing in college, but it definitely happens now that I'm 27. My friends will even comment on what *fictional characters* eat. It's ridiculous.