To start 2010 off, we’re featuring an interview with Margarita Tartakovsky, author of the great new blog Weightless. Her last post of 2009 gives you a good idea of why we think Weightless is such a great resource: 10 Ways to Celebrate Your Body Year-Round.
Q: You write the great new blog Weightless that you describe as “a blog about body image, the skinny fad and freedom from numbers.” How did it get started and what’s its mission?
I’ve always been interested in body image and disordered eating, and I’ve studied it for years. I started contributing articles to Psych Central and its blog, World of Psychology, over a year ago. I had written many posts related to body image and eating — these were my favorites! — which received good responses. Any time I’d sit down to write these posts, I could feel myself getting more and more concerned (and angrier) about the misinformation out there and all the “shoulds”: You should be skinny. You should diet. You should work out six times a week. Then, after getting up the courage to, I sent John Grohol, Psych Central’s founder and CEO, a proposal for Weightless, and fortunately, he said, “yes!” Writing about body image comes naturally to me. I’m just drawn to these subjects.
My mission at Weightless is to help women build a healthier, happier body image, to cut through the myths that everyone can (and should) be skinny, to call out magazines when they’re dispensing disparaging and disordered advice. With my posts, I hope to help readers become informed consumers. When I was younger, I dieted and had a poor body image. I genuinely thought that I had to be on a diet, that I had to be thin. One year my friends and I decided to try Weight Watchers. We’d play with the point system, feeling successful if we went under our allotted points. But then we’d overeat on the weekends, buying high-cal foods, which we’d savor during those two days. Come Monday, it was back to our restrictive ways. Clearly, this was terribly unhealthy! Instead of eating healthfully (i.e., everything in moderation) and nourishing our bodies, our goal was to look thin. That’s one of the reasons why connecting thinness to health makes no sense. Yes, sure, we were thin, but very unhealthy. We silenced our natural hunger cues and toyed with calories. We basically threw health out the window.
I also equated deprivation with something desirable and virtuous (which we commonly see promoted in the media and other avenues). I yearned to be thin, thinking it was something powerful that would change my life. I let how I felt about my body dominate how I felt about myself. And I don’t want others to feel that way. It’s terrible to feel like you have to watch every morsel you put into your mouth and if you “screw up” and overeat, then it’s all over. I can understand feeling out of control with your eating and wanting to fulfill some narrow standard. It’s terrible to feel out of sync with your own body. So I hope my posts can help individuals realize that this doesn’t have to be their reality and give them tools to work toward that. For instance, dieting is not the same as healthy eating, even though this fact gets muddled all the time —something you said in the Q&A on Weightless, which I loved!
In addition, I feature Q&As with women who’ve recovered from eating disorders and disordered eating habits, because I want readers to know that they aren’t alone, that you can recover, that you can get out of that dark place, and lead a healthy, happy life.
Q: Your bio says you have a degree in clinical psychology and have conducted research on body image and disordered eating, both of which are subjects “close to [your] heart.” How/why did you get started researching and writing on this topic?
At first, I think it was a combination of curiosity and the need to understand my own body image struggles, which I had a feeling were fairly universal. I was taking an intro stats class from a graduate student whose research focused on eating disorders. When there was an opening in her lab, I asked if I could help with her research. There, I worked on a study looking at bulimia in undergrads. I interviewed students about their mental health, asking questions from a structured interview, tied to the DSM-IV. I continued working on that research while that grad student was on internship. I really enjoyed the experience. The following year when the grad student was accepted to teach at Texas A&M University, she asked if I wanted to be part of her lab. After I screamed with glee, I said yes and went through the normal admitting process at the university, and got in. After graduating, the first article I ever wrote for a local magazine was about body image. I guess it’s my calling! J
Q: What topics do Weightless readers relate to most?
That’s a great question! The Q&As seem to resonate with many readers. Also, the Minding the Magazines posts — about the damaging tips magazines dish out — seem to get many comments. The first two posts on bruised body image and being shackled to the scale received tons of comments, in large part thanks to the NY Times blog Well, which linked to Weightless when it debuted.
Q: You do a lot of interviews on Weightless. How do you decide whom to interview?
I’d say that two things mostly drive who I interview. One is curiosity. If I come across a person’s blog or book that I think is informative, inspiring and relevant, I do a bit more research about them and then shoot off an email. I get excited to pick their brains! There are so many great body image experts and advocates out there, and everyone is incredibly generous with their time and insight. They’ve done the research and have the experience, so they’re wonderful resources. I love sharing sound information with readers.
Secondly, I think about what kinds of topics would benefit readers most. There’s so much misinformation out there about body image, food, exercise, eating disorders. And with these interviews, I hope to bring out the facts, because, oftentimes, it can feel like the facts are hiding. It upsets me that dieting and preoccupation and dissatisfaction with one’s body is starting at a younger and younger age. And that it has become a reality for most women.
Q: If you could only write one post to help women who struggle with disordered eating and body image, what would that post be about?
Wow, what a fantastic and tough question! I think that post would do some myth-busting, such as why dieting doesn’t work, why health at every size is the key, why exercise isn’t meant to be punishing and why there’s no such thing as good or bad foods. But I’d really focus on acceptance and self-care — why it’s important to accept yourself and how you can work toward self-acceptance and unconditional love (clearly this would be a long post! J). We wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice our lives for a loved one, forgive them and strive to take good care of them. But we don’t think — and we don’t know how — to do that for ourselves.
Q: What are some of your favorite resources on the web for women who struggle with eating and body image?
I have many! Most of my favorite resources are blogs about body image, disordered eating or eating disorders. Marsha, I love your blog, because it gives expert advice and is very uplifting. I probably have too many to list (fortunately, there are many wonderful blogs out there!), but here are a few: You’d be So Pretty If…, ED Bites, Healthy Girl, Fat Girl’s Guide to Living, The Weighting Game, Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder?, Treatment Notes, The-F-Word, Dr. Sarah Ravin, Beautiful You, Are You “Eating with Your Anorexic?”, Finding Melissa, Radical Hateloss. I learn so much from these amazing women. Each blogger has her own thoughtful style and provides thought-provoking, powerful posts. For instance, Carrie of ED Bites frequently posts about new research on eating disorders, explaining the jargon-full studies in plain English. She also talks about her own struggles with eating disorders. Dr. Stacey of Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? posts about body image, the media and disordered eating. She’s a clinical psychologist so she provides yet another different, but equally valuable, perspective.
Q: You’re part of Psych Central. Tell us a little more about that network. Does it offer more resources for women struggling with eating, weight, healthy living?
I love writing for Psych Central! John actually started the website in 1995 and it’s grown so much. Today, it’s the largest mental health website with over 1 million visitors a month. Psych Central focuses on helping people with a variety of issues in their life, including mental health, relationships, parenting and eating. We have many excellent blogs on everything from bipolar disorder and depression to anxiety and celebrities and mental illness. Another blog, 360 Degrees of Mindful Living addresses overeating, emotional eating and eating mindfully.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you, Weightless or the topics you write about?
Something I hear often: “Not liking your body or finding faults with it is a women thing. It’s normal and something every woman feels.” I used to think the same. Isn’t body dissatisfaction just a way of life? Certainly you can’t love everything about yourself. And while it’s good to be attuned to what needs improving, so you can grow, hating your body isn’t something natural (common, yes). I loved what body image expert Sarah Maria told me in a recent interview for Weightless: “It is settling for what happens to be the situation for many, instead of envisioning the possibilities that are available for all. It is accepting mediocrity instead of creating grandeur. It is maintaining the status quo instead of envisioning the truth.” So I’d like readers to know that you can work toward self-acceptance and being proud of your body (and thereby yourself).
Also, if anyone would like to share their story of recovering from an eating disorder, binge eating, poor body image or any other related topic, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love to feature these kinds of Q&As. They’re incredibly inspiring and give great insight!
And I’d love to hear feedback and topic suggestions, too, so if there’s an interview or certain subject you’d like covered on Weightless, please let me know.
Thanks so much, Marsha, for the opportunity to answer these questions!