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



  1. I’m fascinated that she would have missed the furor had her friends not implored her to tune in. Thank you for bringing her great essay to your readers. And for adding to the dialogue yourself.

  2. Having just spent time with women I see once a year at most, I agree these conversations are ongoing and that we are often meanest to our own selves. As a woman, a sister, a Mom and an aunt, I am totally on board with the idea of challenging and changing the ways we think and talk about our bodies.

  3. I want to thank you for the daily blog, which I savor many days like the cakes you bake and share. Yummy. Empty nests, young adult kids, sensless acts of violence, husband-love and cake. It brings me daily pleasure, or a bump of reality, a thought, a connection. Whatever you serve, I look forward to the next morsal. Today you are on my gratitude list, with a note beside it to let you know what I treasure in private each day-this blog.

    I’m a big fan of Ashley. I admire her acting abilities but her intelligent and honest look at both her life, and social justice. Here is one of my favorite quotes from her which was published in an article in More Magazine’s May 2011 issue, “my vocation is to make my life an act of worship.”

    I have not read her book, but I look forward to doing so soon.

    I love brave women, in every size, shape and color. And honesty always looks like bravery to me.

  4. Ahhh, thanks Robin for your kind words. I miss you and all my Tulsa friends. I also miss our mutual friend Dennis. If you see him, give him my regards.

    And I love brave and honest women too! We all need more of them in our lives. Ashley would be one cool female friend to hang with.

  5. I really enjoyed reading that article and was in agreement with so much of what she so eloquently said. I, too, have been thinking about this for myself as a person who has spent a lifetime loathing her body. I’m about to turn 39 and I really don’t want to waste another minute participating in that bullshit.

  6. bungalow56 says:

    Just catching up here Joan. As a mother of three girls and with the same tendencies as yourself this was a much needed post for me to read. Always fighting against this. Always.

  7. Just recently Noodle told me it embarrassed her that we joke about how skinny she is. It never occurred to me as I certainly never had someone tease me for being TOO skinny. I was so heartbroken that I had hurt her feelings, as unintentional as it was and I realized that I must be so conscious of what I say to these girls. They get enough of it out in the world. Loved the essay, but then I have always loved the Judds and Ashley does have some pretty good movies 😉 Plus, she’s from KY ya’ll!

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