Aack! Has comic-strip 'Cathy' shaped your body image?
Born in 1960, I came of age at a peculiar moment in the history of women and their regard for their own bodies. In 1974, the TV show "Rhoda" debuted (the main character having spun off from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"). And in 1976, the groundbreaking "Cathy" comic strip first appeared. The common denominator? Both featured women who weren't happy with their bodies and resorted to a brand of self-deprecating humor to help deal with that discomfort.
I can't help but think that the teenage me was shaped by those influences. I was chubby. But rather than start exercising or cutting back on the cake, cookies, candy and other junk that I ate like there was no tomorrow, I pretty much threw up my hands and kept on pigging out. If these older, more experienced (albeit fictional) women couldn't get a handle on their weight, how could I? And if they could learn to laugh about it, well, maybe I could, too. (Of course, there were plenty of other media influences in our faces in the 1970s; we were still dealing with Twiggy and her ultra-thin ilk.)
It took many years of horrific experiences in bathing-suit shopping a la "Cathy" before I shook myself out of my unhealthful patterns. While I would never think of blaming "Rhoda" or "Cathy" for my lifelong weight and body-image issues, I wonder whether their misery-loves-company approach ultimately served me well.
As "Cathy" comes to the end of her comic-strip career (with the final strip appearing this coming Sunday), I've been reflecting on the character's impact on women and their weight issues. For this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, I interviewed both Cathy Guisewite, the strip's creator, and "Cathy" herself. I learned that the character and comic strip grew out of Guisewite's own long-term struggle with her weight and the attendant dissatisfaction with her body. Guisewite, who at 60 is now quite thin, told me her 50-pound weight gain during college was an act of rebellion against her thin parents.
I've blogged recently about how hard it is for parents to know the right things to say to an overweight child. And I've written about Katherine Schwarzenegger, whose new book is meant to help teen and tweenage girls grapple with their feelings about their bodies. The "Rhoda" and "Cathy" zeitgeist seems to be behind us, with a wave of positive-body-image advocates welling up in its wake.
Yet more young people are overweight and obese than ever.
It's got me wondering. Obviously self-loathing and even excessive self-criticism aren't good for young people, whatever their BMI. But maybe there's something about a little humorous self-deprecation that carries us through the roughest patches, when we feel so disappointed in ourselves for not being in better control of our weight. After all, laughing is better than crying, right?
What do you think?
Has "Cathy" had any effect on the way you feel about your body and your weight? Please vote in today's poll and comment, self-deprecatingly or otherwise, in the Comments section.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
| September 28, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Nutrition and Fitness, Obesity, Women's Health
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