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Eve Eliot Talks About Eating Disorders

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iP: Why did you write Ravenous?

EE: The readers of Insatiable were quite insatiable as to knowing what might happen to the girls next. Many of them wrote to me asking if I had written any other books. They wanted more. In fact, I was quite curious myself as to what would happen to Samantha, Phoebe and Hannah and the rest of their therapy group. I wanted to know if Phoebe was ever going to have a boyfriend. I wanted to know if Hannah would ever come to terms with her mother's death, her bulimia and her lesbianism. I wanted to know if Samantha would finally stop cutting herself and start eating something other than lettuce and apples. So I wrote Ravenous in order to find out.

iP: Why did you write your own song lyrics forRavenous?

EE: I wanted to make music much more important in Ravenous than it was in Insatiable, but I was reluctant to use real bands because bands come and go so fast that in a few months, or definitely in a year, the music the characters were in love with would be obsolete. So I decided to invent my own bands – The Fat Barbees and The Suicidal Clones, for example – and write lyrics for them. It was not only fun to write the songs, but I was also able to dramatize very specifically whatever challenge the characters were facing on that particular page.

iP: Why do Phoebe's journal entries sound like articles from the Enquirer

EE: Phoebe really loves the Enquirer and the Star and when she writes about herself in her journal, she likes to make fun of herself. What she discovers is that if she writes about something upsetting as though she is writing an article about someone else, she feels much less upset. Writing about herself in the third person – writing about "she" instead of "I" – removes her from the center of the crisis, and the emotion around it becomes less overwhelming. Also, Phoebe is the editor of her college paper, so she is very accustomed to writing articles about other people.

iP: Is there another book planned?

EE: I am in the process of writing the third book. It will be a sequel to Insatiable and Ravenous and continue the stories of the girls, the guys and the therapy gang. The third book will have more surprises. It will have new bands and lyrics, of course, but it will also have some other new stuff.

iP: Your books have a lot to do with self-image, among other things, with beauty or people's experience of the lack of it. What IS beauty?

EE: When societies were less highly technologized and more agricultural, beauty was whatever signified the ability of a member of a species to survive and bear progeny. In a culture connected to the cycles of the earth, for example, a woman with wide hips and some extra weight on her body would define the standard of beauty, because that kind of female body is more likely to carry a baby to term in a famine and more likely to survive to fulfill the tasks of mothering until the child is no longer dependent.

Even in our own society, what is considered beautiful still has some connection to the biologically significant features of species survival. For example, small, symmetrical, Barbie-like facial features are considered beautiful. This is because as people age, facial features get larger and the two sides of the face become less and less symmetrical. So small symmetrical features indicate youthfulness, and that is what males will be attracted to naturally, as younger eggs are more likely to produce strong offspring. Strong secondary sex characteristics such as good hair are considered beautiful since healthy hair signifies adequate hormone supplies, pointing to the ability to become pregnant. Men with big muscles can grow or capture more food for their offspring and can protect their families, so a well-muscled body is considered beautiful.

In general, beauty is anything that is the opposite of death. A field full of tall corn is experienced as beautiful, because it can feed us amply and food means life. A similar field all parched and with nothing growing in it to eat is not seen as beautiful. Things that are old, dirty or worn are not considered beautiful because they indicate that time has passed, and the passage of time scares people because it reminds us we are closer to death. Clothing with stains and worn-out places give us the willies, and rooms in which the paint is peeling are not considered pretty because worn out paint means we are wearing out along with it.

In our highly technical affluent societies, the definition of beauty is more complex because survival is defined differently than just being able to have babies and feed them. No longer does survival have to do with access to food, the ability of women to produce progeny and the ability of men to support them. Women support their own progeny, and survival is more related to whether we can afford fuel to keep warm. Value is hooked into the system of supply and demand in which what is scarce is what is considered valuable and therefore beautiful. An antique – worn and dirty and, of course, old – is considered beautiful because it is rare, and scarcity makes things valuable.

In an affluent society, where food is so available to the majority of the population, obesity is more of a problem. So in such a world, more value is placed upon extreme thinness. What is beautiful changes with each season it seems, because what is beautiful needs to reflect what is hard to achieve. Beauty has become a form of fashion instead of a sign of survival.

I like to ask myself the question, "In a blind and deaf world, what would be considered beautiful?"

iP: What can we do to help our children have more balanced values?

EE: Have more balanced values ourselves. The most unsettling thing to children is unsettled parents. I hear a lot in my work about worry, about how parents fear that if they were to divorce, for example, the children would be devastated, as though parents hanging around the house like cardboard cut-outs playing a charade of a happy family is not going to be sensed by the children and devastate them.

Children feel very acutely what is going on beneath the surface. They are not as willing or as practiced as we are about pretense. Their guidance systems are much more highly attuned, like those of animals. Animals do not "believe" what we are saying with our words. They do not have dictionaries of alphabets. They "believe" what we say with our feeling tone. It is the same with children.

So in order to have children with better values, YOU must have better values. You cannot be worrying about your appearance, even silently, and expect your child not to worry about his or her appearance. You cannot say, "It's what's inside that counts," and expect your child to embrace that unless you truly feel that yourself.

iP: How is anger related to disordered eating and other addictive cycles?

EE:Anger is neither attractive or cozy and women are taught not to show it. So the anger gets shunted out of the emotional expression loop. It becomes what is called "split off" from the rest of the person's emotional repertoire. Like anything exiled, it wants back in, wants to be naturally integrated. The disordered eating is one way that the anger lets us know it is there. Many people have temper tantrums that consist of eating a pound of candy. In my books, Phoebe often eats when she is angry and so does Hannah. Samantha tends to starve herself no matter what is happening, but she used cutting as an expression of anger.

iP: How can therapy help?

EE: It is very helpful to examine the beliefs that shape our feelings and choices, and therapy can help enormously in examining beliefs, as many beliefs we hold are extremely hindering, such as that it is not a good idea to express anger.

Beliefs are not reality; beliefs are thoughts we have thought over and over again so that they become habitual – almost like addictions. If someone holds beliefs that impede their growth, it can be life-changing to uncover those beliefs.

For example, if someone believes that it is impossible for them to live without cookies – even though cookies are not an essential food group – this belief will consistently sabotage their most sincere efforts. Other hindering beliefs which are very common are: Being overweight is the worst thing in the world; life is hard; change is unlikely; losing weight requires sacrifice, struggle and moping; it is not possible to be completely happy.

Impeding beliefs – and we all have at least one – can be examined in therapy.

iP: What about Barbie, Britney and Bazaar?

EE: If looking at or thinking about those "B" things disturbs you, do not look at those things. They are not going to go away, so YOU have to go away if you hate yourself when you look at or think about them. Stay close to your inner being, and you will feel much better immediately, no matter what you think you look like. Most people are actually so busy worrying about what THEY think they look like that they are not really paying that much attention to what YOU look like!

iP: What about pressure from other people: parents, friends, co-workers?

EE: Other people are just trying to be happy, just like you. However, like most of us also, they have connected a number of dots incorrectly. That is, they have connected their own happiness with how YOU are doing. Or, they have connected some form of "should" to YOUR well-being.

Most of us have the idea that if things outside were the way they SHOULD be (the way WE want them to be!), we would feel better, be happy. For example, people often become quite emotional about whether their candidate is elected president. But who is president does not change how you feel when you wake up in the morning, because who is president or whether there are any more eagles or whether there is an oil slick in the sea, has absolutely no bearing on how you feel about yourself, which is the major factor accounting for well-being.

Encounters with people trying to change us (or encounters in which we are trying to change someone else) represent the single largest source of distress in the world I think. Wars begin over how we think other people SHOULD be doing things.

So the solution, when other people are placing pressure upon us to change something about ourselves that we do not feel ready to change, is to continue to do exactly what we have been doing until WE have the impetus to change.

In the meantime, you can respond with the words, "You're absolutely right," whenever they come at you with a need for you to change. If someone says, "It's time you did something about your weight. It's ruining your health," your response could be, "You know – you're absolutely right." When the subject arises again, say again, "Yes – you're absolutely right." After only a few of these exchanges, the person wanting you to change will withdraw from the campaign. You will have presented no opposition – there will be nothing for that person to push against. You will have executed a martial arts tactic perfectly.

Present no opposition. You will be happier doing what YOU want to do until YOU are no longer happy and YOU are ready to change.

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