MBP VIP: Renee Engeln on Beauty Sickness

Hey, are you feeling okay? Are you struggling to engage with the rest of the world? Feeling tired and defeated? Unable to direct your energy toward the things that really matter?

Do you have Beauty Sickness?

For most of my life, particularly when I was struggling with my eating disorder, I found social situations unbearable – though you may never have noticed. I liked people, and I knew that I was good at talking to them. I had a talent for engaging groups and entertaining crowds. By all accounts, I was the consummate extrovert.

But somehow, such activities always left me feeling drained, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes they made me feel downright miserable. I could never seem to let go and enjoy myself the way other people did. I knew objectively if I was “having fun”, but I didn’t necessarily feel it. Much of the time it felt forced, and all I really wanted was to be alone.

So when Renee Engeln started talking about Objectification Theory around the 9:30 minute mark, I felt like she was describing my experience exactly. Renee explained, “You cannot chronically monitor your body’s appearance and be engaged with the world. When you are Beauty Sick, you cannot engage with the world, because between you and the world is a mirror, and it’s a mirror that travels with you everywhere. You cannot seem to put it down.”

Yeah, that would pretty much explain why I was so exhausted after socializing. I was so preoccupied with how any person might be perceiving me at any moment that it was nearly impossible for me to do anything but go through the motions. I was on guard at each and every moment, hyper-aware of my body in space, constantly searching the reactions of those around me for signs that I was either succeeding or failing.

This also explains why it’s become more and more enjoyable for me to spend time with friends as I’ve gotten older. The more secure I feel in my own body, my own person, the more I’ve been able to fall in love with myself, the more I can relax into social situations. As that hyper-vigilance has faded away, I’ve found more energy to be present in the exciting and inspiring conversations of those around me. As I’ve let go of the fear that I’m being constantly judged, I’ve been able to taste the fruits of companionship and loyalty in a whole new way. And yes, I’ve felt what it’s like to have fun.

More of that, please.

Imagine the power we women could yield were we to be relieved of this ailment, this Beauty Sickness. Imagine all of that energy, all of that focus, being directed toward something more lasting, more loving. The thought gives me goosebumps.

What’s the simplest way to start? I for one will take Renee’s advice: I’m a new “Auntie” to a beautiful baby girl.  And yes, she is a thing of beauty. But whenever I get the impulse to tell her so, I’ll instead tell her she’s smart / strong / active / capable / friendly / happy / curious / courageous / persistant / generous / kind…

What do you think? Do you have the sickness? How will you work towards getting better?

TV Dinners


I grew up without television. Well, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic. We had a television set with a VCR and plenty of movies. I could catch such important programming as Eureka’s Castle, Duck Tales, and Lamb Chop’s Play Along whenever I visited my grandma’s house. Eventually, my family caved and got basic cable, but our TV time was always limited, and we NEVER turned it on during mealtimes.

By the time I was in college at San Francisco State University, I settled on a degree in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA), a course of study which fueled my overall media consumption and led me to write papers like “A Feminist perspective on Flavor Flav’s Reality Dating Show, Flavor of Love” and “Fern Gully and the Modern Environmental Movement.”

Well, I’m not in school anymore, and I’m here to tell you: my television consumption has gotten way out of hand. It’s easy to see why. After all, even cinematic darlings like Steven Soderbergh concede that the genre is enjoying a golden age. Between Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Girls, and Homeland, I have zero need for conversational fodder at dinner parties. It’s all we talk about. And it’s all I want to do. When I get home from a long, obligation-filled day, I ache for the immediate, abundant satisfaction of my Netflix instant stream.

And that’s fine, to a certain extent. Uses and Gratifications Theory (UGT) allows us to focus less on what the media do to people and more on what people do with media. In other words, I get something out of watching television; otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. Slowly making my way through the first 272 episodes and 12 seasons of Law and Order: SVU may not seem like the most balanced pastime, but I’m well on my way, dammit. Because I love it. Because it offers me something. And that’s okay, sometimes.

Sometimes. Everything in balance. swansons1

So why am I writing about this now? Oh, yeah. Because I’m not just watching too much TV, I’m also eating while I watch too much TV. And I’m eating while I watch TV even though I know the risks. Studies indicate that we consume over 40% more food while watching TV. According to Dr. Brian Wansink, author of the best-selling Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (2006), “Watching TV can be a triple threat: People who watch a lot of TV exercise less, eat more, and weigh more than those who do not watch much TV.”

So if I know the risks, what am I doing? Let’s retrace my steps. There I am, putting together a beautifully healthy meal, mindfully heading toward my peaceful kitchen table, and all of a sudden my inner 13 year old is like, “F*@% you lady. I deserve to be happy, and the only thing that’ll make me happy is to watch Benson and Stabler collar another pedophile.” She’s been winning a lot lately; but not for long.

In a few days I’ll be headed up to the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY for a week-long workshop for health-care professionals on Mindfulness-based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT). Developed by Jean Kristeller, PhD, the program “addresses mindless eating, stress-related eating, disordered eating patterns, and obesity through the application of mindfulness meditation.” So in other words, I’ll be spending a whole week in nature, without TV, contemplating mindful eating. Which is amazing! But also kind of scary…

I mean, this ain’t my first time at the rodeo. Just because I’m largely unsuccessful at it, doesn’t mean I haven’t attempted to make mindful eating a part of my life. I read Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and I was wild about it. I know the benefits and discuss them with my clients all the time. And yet, there’s something I find absolutely terrifying about being alone with my thoughts and my food simultaneously. I’ll make any excuse to avoid it, and television provides the perfect distraction.

Next week, I’ll be fresh out of excuses and sans TV. I can’t wait to get up there and start learning, not just for my health coaching practice, but for myself. In the meantime, I think I’ll reward today’s hard work with an episode of Arrested Development and a simple cup of tea. After all, laughing is good for your health.



“Mindless Eating: Food Psychologist Explains the Mindless Way People Overeat,” Science Daily, Retrieved June 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2007/1202-mindless_eating.htm

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think, Retrieved June 14, 2013, from http://www.mindlesseating.org/faq.php

The Center for Mindful Eating, 2013 MB-EAT Workshops and Programs, Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/upcoming?eventId=673539&EventViewMode=EventDetails