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The Body Politic
By Wendy Shanker

Welcome to “The Body Politic,” a column about women and body image from Wendy Shanker, author of The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life.

Wendy will cover the diet and beauty industry, weight loss drugs and studies, celebrity culture and body image, hoping to help smart women wade through the media mania and still maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem. Consider it feminist food for thought in a culture where fad diets are front page news.

Supermom to the Rescue
by Wendy Shanker

I’m still feeling the creepy-crawlies over Senator Barbara Boxer’s oral faux pas with Secretary of State Condelezza Rice. In case you missed it, Boxer publicly attacked Condi’s Empathy Meter, suggesting that as a Non-Mom Madam Secretary was not completely capable of emotionally-appropriate decision-making about sending young soldiers off to war.

I know better than to let media spin override the core issue of this non-conversation, which was Boxer’s misgivings about sending additional troops to Iraq. But Boxer’s comment was in poor taste and poorly handled. It shaped feminist media during a potent week when one of the biggest photo ops was first-ever female Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi with a gavel in one hand and a grandkid in the other. During a nasty war with no end in sight, it was ammo for another battle that won’t go away: “Mommy” wars. We can’t afford to divide ourselves when we most need to work together, especially when my theory is that the way to end the war in Iraq is not with military means, but with motherly means.

This solution first struck me on a jam-packed flight from L.A. to New York. I took a break from watching the news to stretch my legs. In the galley, where a sun-kissed California mom was trying to calm her bawling baby, we started chatting about the recent headlines about sending more troops to the Middle East.

“Actually, I‘m ashamed to say it,” she said, rocking the screeching infant, “but I really have no idea what’s been going on in Iraq. It’s just been so crazy, with the baby and our broken A/C and packing for this trip that I haven’t really paid attention to the news…”

She’s not the only one. I understand how easy it is, and frankly why just about anyone would choose to tune the news out. I don’t really have a choice, living in in New York. In our city, the threat of danger is a constant, ambient hum. At every newsstand, crawling across screens on skyscrapers, even on TV monitors in elevators, we are instantly notified about each exploding suicide bomb, exposed terror cell, and updated casualty count. Most New Yorkers try to go about their daily business, ignoring certain doom with the help of headphones and a scowl.

But when I was California, I found out you really had to hunt for news. That involved switching TiVo’s “Now Playing” menu to live TV, or unplugging your i-Pod and turning your car radio to NPR. (Everyone in L.A. has a theory about Britney’s missing underpants, but few know their Hamas from their Hezbollah.)

It’s not like the ambivalence is So-Cal specific. In suburban Michigan where I grew up, giant segregated populations of Arabs and Jews shake their heads and point their fingers across their backyards during barbeques or booths at sushi dinners. Sure, they want this horrible situation to end, and they kinda know the difference between a Sunni and and Shiite, but really, they just need make a quick Costco run to buy more baby wipes, then get to FedEx before closing to overnight those Epinephrine shots to their seven-year olds at winter space camp. A mom friend of mine in Detroit apologetically explained, “I feel like if I miss this war, I’ll just catch the next one.” As if she was late for a movie. Maybe Armageddon 2: Electric Boogaloo?

Terrorism, civil war, rising gas prices, defiant nuclear weapons tests in Iran, tsunamis, fires and floods; it’s not just conspiracy theorists who see our world in complete disarray. Our climate is too hot to handle, both literally (winter heat wave, anyone?) and politically. I think about that woman with her baby on the plane, my friends’ toddlers, and broken little bodies pulled from the rubble at busstops in Baghdad, and wonder how parents face their anxiety about our uncertain future.

Some don’t. Forget world politics. Sleep-deprived and stressed out, today’s parents are already distracted by an onslaught of dubious information about germs, pandemics, learning disabilities, shady doctors, dirty spinach, faulty sunscreens, and the potentially Communist overtones of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. It’s enough to make parents nuts, and keep therapists and Oprah producers busy for years. Arkansas schools are sending home warning about first graders’s WEIGHTS on their report cards. What’s a mom to do?

Powered by fear fumes, they pack their kids organic, vegan, bovine growth hormone and transfat free lunches in biodegradable bags; strap them into thousand-dollar allergen-free car seats in environmentally safe hybrid minivans; and send them to schools screened for racists, sexists and sexual predators. But it’s a waste of energy when the chance of their own kids being killed by Katyusha rockets in their Midwestern rumpus rooms grows greater every day.

So how do we stop this tidal wave of terror? Will 20,000 soliders really make a differece? We know one person can change the world, whether or not he or she wears a uniform. Recent history shows that it only takes one mom to initiate major social change. Maureen Kanka’s daughter Megan was raped and killed by a known child molester. Maureen took action; now sex offenders must registered under Megan’s Law. Candy Lightner’s daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver. Candy got mad, and we got MADD. Jeanne Manford’s son Morty was beaten at a gay rights rally. Intolerant of intolerance, Jeanne gave birth to PFLAG.

I see mothers as modern-day superheroes, even if their true identities may be hidden under layers of yoga pants and Old Navy t-shirts and drool. To insure our basic survival – the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the peace of mind we need to go to sleep at night and wake up again in the morning – we need their help.

Politicians, diplomats, and soldiers have not been able to resolve tension in the Middle East, or stop terrorism; maybe mothers can. American, Israeli, Iraqui, Lebanese, Palestinian, Afghani and North Korean mothers; mothers all over the Earth. Infuriated mothers mobilized by anger and fear and loss, who will stop at nothing (and often go too far) to protect their children from the threats of an endlessly rotating cast of villains – be they bombs, terrorists, war profiteers, or presidents.

So what’s keeping them? Why haven’t multi-tasking moms come to the rescue, wiping noses and rewriting policy in the name of truth, justice and the American way?

I’m guessing they’re exhausted. Their resources are tapped. They’ve been overexposed to a Mean Girl media that thrives on humiliation and misinformation, and nonsense about “after-baby bodies” and “vaginal rejuvenation” and these do-you-work-or-not “Mommy Wars.” They’ve been misled by “experts” who say they should be able to have it all and do it all, all by themselves. They’ve been drained by a culture that mocks do-gooders and rewards no-goodniks; discouraged by a government that excels at destroying reputations, scaring away potential candidates for change; and deafened by a chorus of voices that label women like Cindy Sheehan “unpatriotic” for expressing grief over the loss her son. I call this…Kraptonite. It makes moms feel too weak to fight. It makes peace seem impossible.

Maybe I’m like Barbara Boxer, making assumptions about other women based solely on their mom or non-mom status. But the way I see it, everyone’s kids are my kids. They didn’t have to pop out of my womb for me to feel responsible for their futures. I didn’t have to pluck ‘em out of Malawi to make sure they get a meal tomorrow. As a woman, I am nature. I am Earth. So are you. We are all mothers, uterus utlitlzed in any which way.

So please, help me find an antidote to Kraptonite. There must be a way to deflect these bullets of B.S. so moms lead us in harnessing the powerful, natural, fearless energy they need to do what they do best: protect people from danger and ensure our future. Daddies certainly love their kids, and non-parents like are also invested in the well being of children. But moms have hard-wired momentum. I give ‘em extra credit. Life is their gift, because they give life.

Back up in the sky, as I listened to that woman singing multi-culturally sensitive, gender-neutral lullabies, it hit me: she’s a bird. She’s a plane. She’s Supermom. So filled to the gills with hope and here to fight the good fight, I asked her, “How can I help?”

Exhausted, she shook her head and said, “You can’t.” Then she turned and locked herself and her still-screaming child behind the bathroom door.


Wendy Shanker's humorous, hopeful memoir about women and body image, The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life (Bloomsbury USA) changed the way many women related to their weight. You may have seen Wendy discussing her book on “The View,” “Good Morning America,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” or on her national tour sponsored by Macy’s Woman. The Fat Girl’s Guide was recently released in paperback, and will be published in seven different languages, including Italian, German, and Japanese (but not French – because French women don’t get fat).

Wendy’s byline has appeared in Glamour, Grace, Self, Shape, Us Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Marie-Claire, Seventeen, Bust and Bitch, and on MTV. She contributed to the anthology Body Outlaws: Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image (Seal Press), and her essay “Big Mouth: Women & Appetite” was recently published in The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide To Guilt (Dutton). Check out her introduction in the new book Big Girl Knits: 25 Big, Bold Projects Shaped for Real Women with Real Curves (Potter Craft).

Wendy is honored to be a national spokesperson for NOW’s Love Your Body Day (loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org).

For more info about Wendy, go to www.wendyshanker.com. You can also send Wendy an e-mail.



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