Changing the conversation.

Dear friends,

If you don’t follow the tabloids (and I don’t, but some of my friends on Facebook do), then you’ve probably missed the hubbub over Ashley Judd’s “puffy face.”

You know, Ashley Judd, the B-list actress, and daughter and sister of country entertainers the Judds? (Look, I’m not making a statement here about Ashley’s relative status in Hollywood. I’m mentioning these details so you can place her in case, like me, you only recently found out who the Kardashians are.)

Apparently, someone thought Ashely Judd looked “puffy” on a recent television appearance, and it spawned a tabloid frenzy of speculation about plastic surgery.

And the actress who I know almost nothing about (and whose movies I’ve never watched) fired back. At the tabloids. At Hollywood. At every single woman and man who ever said a snarky thing about a woman’s appearance.

Turns out, Ms. Judd is far more than the pretty actress some have pigeon-holed her to be. She is wicked smart. And articulate. If you haven’t read her essay, please do so when you finish my post by clicking here. I haven’t read writing this intelligent (on a topic that should be important to all women) in a very, very long time.

To wit:

“That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.”

I’m tempted to say “Who among us hasn’t made an unflattering comment about a female celebrity’s appearance? But to do so sounds like I’m excusing myself when I shouldn’t. So I won’t. I’ll simply say she’s absolutely right.

I also won’t excuse myself by claiming I denigrate myself more than anyone else. I do — and I could say it’s ingrained in me but that, too, sounds like an excuse. So I won’t make one. I’ll simply say I intend to do better.

In this space alone I have called myself “lumpy and dumpy,” “middle-aged” (as if middle age is a pejorative), an overripe pear, and who knows what else because I’m so desensitized to the conversation.

Last week while talking with some women about my recent attempts to eat healthier, our exchange quickly turned into a group commiseration about (flagellation of?) our bodies. And I participated by declaring “I have a big birthday coming up and I refuse to be fat and 50!” I immediately saw one woman wince — a woman who’s quite a bit larger than me and who should have rightly felt awful that I just declared her fat. I felt bad, but it was too late. Insidious is the word Ashley used for what we do to ourselves and to each other, and I realize now my comment was as treacherous as they come.

I was honest when I said I embarked on a healthier eating plan for health reasons. So why was I so willing to distill my effort into nothing more than a weight loss scheme in front of a group of my peers?

Ashley asks us to change the conversation, and I’ll hope you’ll join me in listening to her:

“I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends?”

The conversation starts in our heads. It starts in my head, actually. And I intend to shed the “unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears” that she speaks of. I know I can do better.

And that’s the healthiest diet I can think of.

With gratitude {for a much-needed wake up call and yet another opportunity to love myself for exactly who I am and not how I look},

Joan, who thinks call it “a body,” call it “an earthly receptacle,” call it “flesh and bones” — whatever you call it, whatever its limitations, surely it’s worth a daily dose of gratitude