Caroline Rothstein is a New York City-based writer, performer, and eating disorder recovery advocate, who specializes in spoken word poetry, theater, creative nonfiction, journalism, and performance art. A regular performer at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café and a member of their 2010 slam team ranked second in the nation, she has competed, performed, and led workshops at poetry venues, theatres, colleges, and schools around the United States for a decade. A longtime activist in eating disorder recovery, she hosts the video-blog “Body Empowerment,” sharing her own recovery story to promote positive body image worldwide. She has a B.A. in classical studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.S. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. www.carolinerothstein.com
My response to the HuffPo article "Turning 30: 30 Things Every Woman Should Have And Should Know"
By Caroline Rothstein
(After originally posting here on Tumblr, this piece was then published on April 30, 2012 in the Huffington Post)
I am 28-year-old white, heterosexual woman from an upper-middle class upbringing. This Glamour list, recently republished in the Huffington Post in an article called “Turning 30: 30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know,” was clearly written for my demographic. HuffPo published the article in conjunction with the release of a book based on the 1997 Glamour list.
With a journalism background, I recognize Glamour caters to a business model with a specific audience demographic in mind: me - white, heterosexual middle and upper class women. However, I am deeply concerned with how - especially with this new book - the 1997 list is marketed to speak for all women.
I find the list wildly heterosexist, classist, racist, and offensive.
In lieu of the budding conversations unraveling in the Huff Po article’s comment section and throughout social media, as well as recent articles and conversations about HBO’s new series “Girls,” I want to add more to this crucial conversation about race, class, sexuality, gender, and privilege.
I’ve written an alternative list responding directly to each corresponding number on Glamour’s “30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know.” Consider it my response to what I’ve learned, am learning, and hope to continue learning by the time I myself turn 30.
(*I recommend reading the original first. Or maybe even reading these side by side in congruent browsing windows.)
By 30, you should have…
1) An awareness that not all women/womyn date men or only men, or even people who identify with one gender.
1.5) An awareness that some individuals who live their lives as and identify as women actually identify as “womyn” because of the racism that exists in many women-identified spaces and socio-political movements.
2) A piece of furniture previously owned by someone you care about because not everyone can afford new furniture by the time they are 30.
3) Something perfect to wear if someone important wants to see you in an hour - because not everyone has an employer or man of their dreams because not everyone has a traditional job and not everyone who identifies as a woman/womyn dreams about men.
4) No shame. Period.
5) A youth you’ve processed because many people were traumatized before they were 30 and therefore may have to spend more then a few decades moving beyond.
6) SAME as original list: “A past juicy enough that you’re looking forward to retelling it in your old age.”
7) The realization that you are going to have an old age with a support system to help enrich it - because not everyone can afford to have financial savings. Some people never have savings. Ever. Really. Especially if they’ve done things by 30 like go to college and graduate school and pay for it by themselves while accumulating massive amounts of debt whereby there isn’t any money available to save.
8) Security - in whatever way that means - because not everyone has access to or can afford Internet, a phone, and a bank account.
10) SAME as original list: “One friend who always makes you laugh and one who lets you cry.”
11) Some tools like screwdrivers, hammers, and nails and things like that, and if you wear bras, then a bra that you really like wearing and makes you feel good. And if you don’t wear bras, then how about an item of clothing that makes you feel empowered - as I’m assuming that is what a “black lace bra” is supposed to symbolize?
12) A gift you’ve given yourself, whatever it may be, because not all ridiculously valuable gifts are valued via their cost, especially because not all women/womyn can afford anything ridiculously expensive by the time they’re 30. Or ever.
13) The belief that you deserve self-love.
14) An understanding of what you need in order to take care of yourself and feel as good as you deserve.
15) A solid start to a satisfying LIFE, satisfying RELATIONSHIPS with family of kin and/or choice, friends, and romantic partners if so desired (because some people don’t want to be in a partnership), and “all those other facets of life that do get better.”
By 30, you should know …
1) SAME as original list: “How to fall in love without losing yourself.”
2) SAME as original list - with a conscious awareness that some people know because they already have kids, right?: “How you feel about having kids.”
3) How to quit a job when you have the financial means to do so, break up from a relationship in which you do not want to be no matter what their gender or non-gender, and “confront a friend without ruining the friendship.”
4) SAME as original list: “When to try harder and when to walk away.”
5) SAME as original list - with the addition of knowing what to do or who to call when your communication is not honored: “How to kiss in a way that communicates perfectly what you would and wouldn’t like to happen next.”
6) SAME as original list - “The names of the secretary of state, your great-grandmothers,” and then…how to fix your own damn clothes unless you can afford a tailor.
7) How to BE alone, because not everyone have the ability or choice to live alone because that’s not a viable option for every woman/womyn.
8) SAME as original list: “Where to go — be it your best friend’s kitchen table or a yoga mat — when your soul needs soothing.”
9) SAME as original list: “That you can’t change the length of your legs, the width of your hips, or the nature of your parents.”
10) The original list says, “That your childhood may not have been perfect, but it’s over.” A lot of people’s childhoods weren’t perfect because they experienced a lot of trauma and telling them to just get over it is highly insensitive and naive. I should hope that by 30, every woman/womyn has begun processing and understanding their childhood - especially if it wasn’t “perfect” - and is in a stable place or working to be in a stable place of understanding how to contextualize their experience, thus allowing themselves to live their lives with as much freedom from those experiences as possible.
11) SAME as original list: “What you would and wouldn’t do for money or love.”
12) Um…SAME as original list?: “That nobody gets away with smoking, drinking, doing drugs, or not flossing for very long.”
13) SAME as original list: “Who you can trust, who you can’t, and why you shouldn’t take it personally.”
14) SAME as original list: “Not to apologize for something that isn’t your fault.”
15) That life begins when you’re born, and any moment thereafter you decide to start over…by all means, go for it.
ED treatment is expensive, so your insurance company wants to avoid paying for treatment if it can. The Anna Westin Foundation has some excellent info on the tricks that insurance companies use, and how you can beat them at their own game.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is exploring the need for eating disorders awareness to the professional artistic community and how NEDA can facilitate the use of the arts as a tool in eating disorder prevention, education and recovery. As a member of the artistic community and a NEDA volunteer, I am conducting this survey in an effort to learn more about who these artists are, what their needs are concerning eating dsorders awareness and how the National Eating Disorders Association can meet these needs within this developing program.” - Survey message.
Why I make art about eating disorders and recovery...
My new one-woman play “faith" is an autobiographical account of my experience with a decade-long eating disorder, followed by the seven years since in which I have been recovered. It is so deeply personal, so raw, so vulnerable, and so dear to my heart and passion as both an artist and activist. Every day I rehearse this play, I relive the emotions and pain of my eating disorder. I don’t experience it, or redevelop the behaviors or symptoms. But I literally have to feel the thoughts, the pains, the quivering moments of utter loneliness that suffocated my ability to fully live my life for too many years; it is both exhausting and empathic. I cannot believe I spent nearly a third of my life feeling like that every day. I cannot believe 70 million people worldwide spend their lives feeling like that every day. I cannot believe millions and millions more spend their lives feeling a congruent version of that every day battling other various addictions and mental illnesses.
That is why I share my story, so we don’t have to suffer anymore. So the shame associated with eating disorders - and mental illness in general - can disappear, and we can rebuild and reconsider the way we raise each other to or not to love ourselves. I hope to see you next Tuesday or Wednesday night at the Living Theatre. I hope that everyone sitting in the audience will go home unashamed of their own story - whatever it may be. I hope you will join me on this journey of healing, in solidarity, in pride, in strength.
As I write my next blog for the Huffington Post, I feel obligated to say how angry I am becoming. There are so many things that I am seeing and reading about this Trayon Martin tragedy that it just makes me sick. This whole situation where George (Jorge) Zimmerman has not seen…
I must reblog this. Racism is a body image issue. Racism is body disempowerment - its affects and effects threatening and tremendously scathing for those experiencing such prejudices. Racial profiling is a gross manifestation of body disempowerment. It must stop. It never should have started.
“Sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and hug the starving 11-year-old girl who wrote, “I cannot face to live this chore.” When we meet in my memory, I pet her left cheek with my right hand, whose fingertips have long forgotten the dainty dangle of her uvula. I run my thumb across her eyebrow, tell her not to over pluck them anymore, and assure her they will grow back thick – like her body will be.”—excerpt from Caroline Rothstein's one-woman play “faith,” April 3 & 4 at the Living Theatre in NYC
“But an eating disorder has nothing to do with weight. It’s a mental illness. A psychological disorder. A manifestation of pain, and trauma, and suffering, and most often an uncontrollable nefarious demon in the back of your head telling you you’re worthless.”—excerpt from Caroline Rothstein's one-woman play “faith,” April 3 & 4 at the Living Theatre in NYC
“A lot has changed since the mid-90s. We now know that eating disorders are psychological. Cases span from toddlers to geriatrics, men, women, queer, heterosexual, white, black, Latino, Asian, Arab, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, middle class, working class, poor. The rich, white female problem no longer discriminates: it’s a worldwide epidemic.”—Excerpt from Caroline Rothstein’s one-woman play “faith”
“For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”— Audre Lorde
Physiological benefits: 1- It lowers oxygen consumption. 2- It decreases respiratory rate. 3- It increases blood flow and slows the heart rate. 4- Increases exercise tolerance. 5- Leads to a deeper level of physical relaxation. 6- Good for people with high blood pressure. 7- Reduces anxiety…
Eating disorders are not a stand-up comedy joke....
Last night, I had the opportunity to showcase an excerpt of my new one-woman play “faith" as part of Poetic Theater Production’s spring season preview March4Word. The play is a chronological, nonfiction, and autobiographical account of my experience with and recovery from a decade-long eating disorder. The scene I performed at March4Word is about a “near relapse” experience I had amidst my time being recovered. It examines a minute by minute afternoon during which I had painfully triggering and self-deprecating thoughts and emotions that I simultaneously worked incessantly hard to keep from manifesting into actual self-harm and eating disorder behavior. In the end, I did not physically relapse - I triumphed over the eating disorder mentality. The point of the scene is to showcase the occasional mental and emotional struggles of recovery, while simultaneously highlighting that it is, in fact, possible to persevere beyond these thoughts and feelings without actually relapsing - in my case, without binging, purging, or self-harming.
In context, the scene is perhaps the climax of the play - right near the end before the final two scenes. Out of context, it can be read in many ways, which I realized last night at March4Word. The audience laughed at moments I would never - in a million years - have found to be funny. Not just because I experienced those moments in real life as painful, but because the sometimes challenge to remain recovered is not particularly funny, especially when that challenge is met with very disturbing thought inside your head.
I cannot take away from an audience’s authentic reaction. It is crucial to allow people the freedom to experience art as they do. That’s not for me as a performer and writer to ever control. But I can consider it as a way to start a conversation. As a way to consider whether or not my message is effectively coming across. As a way to learn and grow and open.
My producer Jeremy Karafin and I spoke about it after the show. He made an excellent point - often, the only context in which people hear about eating disorders and food struggles and diets on a massive and accessible scale are as part of stand-up comedy routines. This morning at rehearsal he expanded on this saying, “Some people only know how to approach this topic via comedy. There’s this uncomfortable element to it. They think maybe they relate to the specific type of diet and they only know how to laugh at themselves, instead of exploring it from a serious perspective as well.” He continued, “It’s something that is acceptable to dismiss because it’s not taken as a serious illness.”
We need to talk about this. Diets aren’t funny. They can become eating disorders. Quickly. Often. More than we all know. Eating disorders are not funny. They can become deadly. Quickly. Often. And more than we all know.
I hope you will join me in this dialogue, in this conversation, in this mission to spread awareness, prevention, and recovery. Eating disorders are epidemic. They don’t have to be. They never had to be. The culture of self-hate in which we are all living does not have to exist. It manifests as pain and suffering beyond eating disorders. It manifests as addiction, as violence, as sexual violence, as abuse, as war, as manipulation, as invasion, as unnecessary hatred. Let us conquer this, challenge this, and end this through self-love, through dialogue, and through - perhaps most importantly - listening to one another.