Have increased opportunities for women encouraged anorexia?

By Jennifer Petro-Roy (b.1982)

Anorexia has become a buzzword in our society, partially due to the utter confusion of many surrounding the true nature of such a pernicious and often misunderstood disease. Pundits and news reports blame the media, pointing to the glamorization of thinness that perpetuates every aspect of our society. The media is certainly not wholly innocent. However, although the media may play a large part in perpetuating the symptoms and the glorification of anorexia, the real danger, especially for today’s young women, lies in the values of our modern society, with its emphasis on perfection and constant achievement.

Women my age, no longer hindered by the label ‘the weaker sex,’ were encouraged from a very young age to pursue our dreams. Dreams that we were well aware were supposed to be grander than those before us were supposed to have dared. But what happens when a dream falls short, when reality does not measure up to the illusory future that one has built in one’s mind and strived for for so long? In an environment where one bases one’s self-worth upon achievements and effortless perfection, many young women will falter when they miss the mark for the first time, flailing about for a life raft to hold on to, something to give them comfort and security until they regain the courage to try again. For many women, anorexia is that life raft.

In a world that values constant achievement and unremitting perfection, both in form and in deed, restricting one’s food or exercising one’s shame and sadness away can serve as another way to strive for the perfection that could not be achieved in the professional sphere. Perfecting one’s body becomes a distraction from the belief that we are not good enough, starving our pain away becomes a way to numb the fear that we are not worthy simply as we are.
It is not the media that needs to be changed, but our values. Yes, society needs to send the message that women can strive, can achieve, can accomplish. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an impressive resume or a windowed corner office. But women also need to know that they can also relax, can fail, can simply be. It is not the unremitting pursuit of perfection that makes us worthy, but our inner selves. Society must ultimately embrace this belief, must counteract the illusory temptations of eating disorders with an embrace of perfect imperfection, in order for women to truly accept their bodies and their unique selves. The question is, will our generation be able to teach this to our daughters?

Jennifer Petro-Roy is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. She is an advocate for eating disorders awareness and a recovery speaker in the Massachusetts area.

Back then: Connecting with the women who lived before Roe v. Wade

Kate Henley Long (b. 1982)

"You just have no idea what it was like back then," she remarked. The "back then" she was referring to was the days prior to the legalization of abortion, and "she" was a baby boomer.

I've been thinking about this remark this week because I've had reproductive rights on the brain. Not only was yesterday the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but this week we inaugurated a new president, one who is arguably the most pro-choice leader our country has ever had. In his first few days in office, he's already stated his commitment to a woman's right to choose and for taking steps to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in our country, and is set to repeal the global gag rule that prohibits funding to international healthcare providers that offer abortion services.

My third- (or is it fourth?) wave feminist heart leaps for joy at this news. But to be honest, I fear that feminists of my generation are getting a little lazy around reproductive rights issues. We've lived our whole lives in a time and place where abortion was legal, safe, and sometimes even affordable, and the fight loses a little bit of the fire behind it when the "time before" is history, and a fuzzy history at that. Because, really, she's right - we don't know what it was like back then. We haven't lived it, and to date I've yet to come across a single person who had a "women's oral histories from the pre-Roe era" unit in their high school U.S. History class. And, in my experience, at least, the chances that we have to network and organize with activists a generation or two older than us are few and far between.

I have a feeling that one of the primary reasons for this lack of intergenerational organizing is technological. Like it or not, Millennials live on the internet. We do much of our socializing, networking, communicating, and even organizing via Facebook - just think, for example, of Join the Impact's November 15, 2008 nationwide Proposition 8 protest, which drew over 1 million protestors in all fifty states and was organized online in only a week, primarily via facebook. While these modes of organizing and interacting are certainly powerful, are they causing grassroots movements to sacrifice a depth of experience for the payoff of a breadth of exposure?

Kate Henley Long holds an MDiv from Harvard University and is a regular poster for the blog, "From the Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism."

From the newsfeed...

by the Editor (b.1982)
Alright, you might have noticed the scrolling newsfeed at the top of this blog.  It's cued up to run stories about the Millennials or Generation Y.  Here's a great article that showed up from the Huffington Post about what Gen Yers are looking for in the workplace.  What are you looking for?   

A conflicted patriotism

by Brian A. Mongeau (b. 1988)

Coming of political age during the Bush era, there is little that cuts to my inner conflicts more than the struggle I face reconciling my patriotism for the country I love with the disdain I feel towards "love it or leave it" Americanism. I was only a 13 year-old on 11 September 2001, and my teenage years have largely been filled with tragic American foreign actions, heaped on top of similar stories about Vietnam from a father who was drafted into that conflict. At the same time, with all the opportunities and abundance of American society I truly hold that, to put a spin on a Winston Churchill quotation, America is the worst country in the world, except for all the others that have been tried. The countervailing emotions I end up feeling are rather reflective of the narcissistic and self-centered, yet also self-loathing, psychology found among many of my generation: a clashing of liberalism, disdain for "America!-ism", and anger over irrational foreign policy partnered with a very real patriotism. In my case, this has led, confusingly, to an overbearing desire to be in the Armed Forces.

At no point in my life, however, have I felt this conflict more than after deciding to apply for the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School this upcoming summer. I feel both great pride and painful embarrassment in this decision, both feelings based on people's differing reactions and prejudices. Going to school in the super-liberal town of Madison, Wisconsin, I often deflect or shy away from questions about my summer, and possibly post-college plans as I know most students will react negatively to my decision. Yet, with my pride admittedly hurt, this reaction angers me too, as it comes from a student body who has been granted and who has exploited every opportunity unique to US citizens. Conversely, and somewhat ironically, when I have similar conversations in ultra-conservative, rural, northern Wisconsin, the same disdain I feel for those students comes up when flag-waving, chest-thumping people cheer my decision. I often feel that these people have no clue that what makes America great is not its massive nuclear stock piles but its intangible ideals and dreams. It is the latter that I am fighting for.

My generation faces a world that is very different than the one our fathers told us glamorous stories of when we were children in the 1990s. Maybe it is the about-face in patriotism we encountered in our tween years that produces such conflicting emotions. Yet, it is these inner emotions – a fierce pride from our youth mixed with the disappointment of our leaders' failures in our teen years – that pull on and confuse us as to what is right and wrong in the world. At the end of the day, if nothing else, I take solace in the fact that I have made a decision to defend what I consider noble ideals and I am sticking with it – even if that is Bush-like.

Your Turn

by the Editor (b. 1982)

The Greatest Generation fought for freedom in World War II, the Boomer Generation fought for love, Generation X fought optimism, and now it's our turn. We are The Millennials, also known as Generation Y, and we are treading water right now, gearing up to fight for something. Right now "they" say we are selfish and self-interested, glued to TV, video games, and the web. "They" are shocked that we seemed to care about the 2008 presidential election and even the news stories noting our record turn-out at the polls insisted that it was only Obama's "star-quality" that got us there, not a genuine concern for the plight of our nation and the way we are viewed in the world. "They" don't know anything about us.

It is time to tell the world who we are.

This is not a political blog. There will be McCain voters, Obama voters, Christians, Jews, and non-believers writing on this site. The Millennial Generation in America is the most diverse one to hit the country since it began and it is our children who will tip the majority balance from white to brown by 2050. As your editor, I will do my utmost to reach out to the most diverse group of Millennial writers (politically, ethnically, religiously, geographically, career-ly and by every other possible measure) that I can get emails for. That said, my contacts are limited by my experience, so if you have something to say and you don't think your views are being represented here, email me your 200-400 word post, and I will upload it.* The only requirements for writing are that you were born between 1975 and 1990, and that your first post in some way relates to this fact.

*No profanity please. Also, I reserve the right to edit for basic spelling and grammar. I will ask your permission before making any changes beyond these.