Did Helen Reddy Teach Me Nothing?


There were a couple of summers when my mother and I took weekend camping trips together in the summer.  I was between 9-11 years old.  I’m not sure where the idea for them originated, but they sort of became these little girls-only outings where my mother explained the birds and the bees to me, charmingly using fallen twigs and pinecones to illustrate fallopian tubes next to the campfire.  I also have quite a distinct memory of her trying to explain Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman ) to me; the only words she could remember were “I am strong! I am invincible! I am woman!”  I have a pretty clear image of her belting out these words on some grassy knoll during a hike, and me being embarrassed even though no-one was around.

As I’ve tried to be more mindful of my automatic reactions to food, eating patterns, and my attitude toward my body the last week, this image of her pulling a Sound of Music  has come to mind.  Not because it embodies exactly how I feel about these things: quite the opposite.  Monday night I had eaten dinner (vegan shepherd’s pie and salad) at around six, and around nine, there I was, hungry again.  This is perfectly normal, especially given the low fat content of my meal.  So then, I spent a good hour and a half watching tv and ruminating about what snack I could fix and eat and feel good about that would also be the least offensive to my plans for weight loss, followed by world domination.  Was there anything I actually wanted to eat and would feel satisfied by that didn’t contain some sugar or fat or starch?  I came no closer to reaching the decision I wanted myself to reach, but became absolutely ravenous and went upstairs and made myself a few pieces of applesauce toast (sourdough bread, butter, applesauce).  That was what I wanted to eat.  That was what tasted good.  And I was furious at myself.

I got an artsy little book this week called Preliminary Materials For A Theory of the Young-Girl by Tiqqun (which a google search informs me is a French philosophical journal.)  I’m not sure I trust myself to explain it well or at all, but there is a quote and corresponding idea that I find thought-provoking and relevant.  First, the quote:

“The Young-Girl would like to be a thing, but does not want to be treated like a thing.  Yet all her distress comes not only from the fact that she’s treated like a thing, but that on top of that she can’t manage to really be a thing.”

The corresponding concept is a woman, especially a young woman, whose identity is that she is a commodity, or who struggles with the fact that she is expected to be a commodity.

I will now clumsily try to make the connection between these philosophical thoughts and my own journey.  There are parts of me that want to be a very specific thing: thin, rich, pretty, composed, perfect.  This image has surrounded me throughout childhood and continues to do so in its own special way.  Because at the same time my mother was telling me empowering things over the campfire, she was both consciously and subconsciously reinforcing the idea at home that boys wouldn’t like me unless I lost weight, and that being a good wife meant ironing her husband’s shirts every night for work the next day and cooking dinners that everyone liked.


I think at least some of my feelings when it comes to food can be related to this juxtaposition.  I want to be that girl who has a breakfast of raw vegetables and egg whites, even though I rail against anyone who would expect it of me. I rarely want vegetables at breakfast, and this fills me with hatred a) for myself, because I can’t make myself want what I am told I should want and b) for the society that has told me my worth is somehow wrapped up in the fact that I eat specific breakfast foods. If you listen to the rest of the lyrics to I am Woman, Helen sort of hints at this constant push and pull.  Wisdom born from pain and all that.  I find it difficult to conclude this post for a couple of reasons.  I might be on this journey of self-worth and how it fits into my being a woman and how it stems from my childhood and whether I can find peace my entire life, not just one blog post.  Also, I’m hungry.

Post written by Anna Beach, a writer whose thoughts can also be found here: https://www.facebook.com/annawrites1019 and here: https://feedthelove.wordpress.com/.

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