It is Sunday. Things have been a little crazy around here - we are putting an addition on our house, we had three days of grandkids - so fun, but exhausting, an alpaca show, and all the stuff that usually comes with summer on the farm. Today, I am resting, but my mind is spinning so I think it will actually be restful for me to write.
The first restful (using the term loosely) thing I did this morning was read the paper. I came across an opinion piece by Caroline Reilly titled, The lobotomy-chic trend has an ugly history (August 3, 2023). I'm not even sure where to start. This post will ask more questions than it answers, I think - which is good, I guess.
Reilly's piece talks about the memes she has seen about lobotomies and says that they are becoming common on social media. According to her, and I have no reason to doubt her, "#lobotomychic" has 9.3 million views on TikTok - if you are a TikTok user, which I am not, that would be easy enough to verify. A tweet (sorry, X?) that reads, "I wish it was 1952 so my husband could just take me to get a lobotomy" earned more than 26,000 likes. Sisters, what the HELL?
I looked up "lobotomy chic." Apparently the duck-face pout, which I think looks pretty stupid anyway, is passe and the "dissociative pout" has replaced it. I found the dissociative pout. The face points down away from the camera, the eyes roll up toward the camera, the lips are slightly open and the muscles in the face are slack so the subject is expressionless. According to Pesala Bendara, this dissociative pout is a reaction to and rejection of heavily edited photos in favor of a more casual "who cares" aesthetic. But an aesthetic is an aesthetic, and I find this expression revolting. I am about to tell you why.
A lobotomy is a surgical procedure in which a knife or ice-pick like tool is inserted into the brain through the eye socket. The goal is to separate the frontal lobe from the thalamus.
Now, here is your anatomy lesson. The frontal lobe of the brain is where higher level thinking (executive function) occurs: problem solving, planning, judgement, decision making, etc. It is where memories are stored and personality develops. Impulse control, memory and social behavior are regulated in the frontal lobe. The thalamus is described as the brain's information relay station. All sensory impulses except smell pass through the thalamus on their way to the cerebral cortex to initiate reactions. By severing the ability of impulses from the frontal lobe to move to and through the thalamus, theoretically the person becomes less volatile and more malleable.
The procedure was used to treat schizophrenia and intractable mood disorders in the 1930s and 1940s. I suppose that I can understand why a desperate person, family, and/or physician might be willing to give the procedure a try as our pharmacology and psychotherapy weren't then whatthey are now. But even then there were questions about who benefitted from the procedure: it didn't cure mental illness but it did make patients easier to manage.
The procedure was dangerous and fell out of favor in the 1950s, but remains legal in many parts of the United States. Maybe instead of endless "hearings" about people's laptops Congress could actually outlaw lobotomies. Because the weren't just used to treat mental illness. They were used to "cure" homosexuality and criminal insanity - which included pretty much anyone who committed a violent crime. Imagine being angry because you were wrongly convicted of a crime. Your anger might have made you a candidate for a lobotomy. People with intellectual disabilities were subjected to lobotomies. According to Reilly, in 1942 75 percent of lobotomies had been performed on women. Remember that women could be institutionalized at the request of their husbands. Women were institutionalized for not wanting children, for being too independent, for reading the wrong novels, for "insane" behavior during menopause, "uterine derangement" during her monthly periods (Moore, 2021).
Sadly, vestiges of this abuse remain. As Kate Moore wrote in "Speaking Up: the dark American history of silencing women through psychiatry,:
Think of Rose McGowan, whose resolve to hold Harvey Weinstein to account saw his lawyers discuss a plot to make her seem “increasingly unglued,” a memo revealed.
Think of Nancy Pelosi in her electric-blue suit literally standing up to Donald Trump. “There is…something wrong with her ‘upstairs,’” Trump railed on Twitter in response. “She is a very sick person!”
I think of all the women who complain that doctors don't take them seriously when they complain of endometrial pain. I think of Serena Williams who almost died because she couldn't get a doctor to take her shortness of breath after the birth of her baby seriously - she had a pulmonary embolism. Women are still considered "hysterical," and if you consider that the root of hysterical and hysterectomy are the same - well, ladies, we had better trust our husbands.
So, back to this mornings opinion piece and dissociative pouting. Why in the world would any young woman think it is attractive to mimic women who have had these atrocities committed against them? Why would any woman want to look like she is incapable of higher executive function? Why???? What are we doing to ourselves? It isn't funny to joke about lobotomies to solve our problems because real people suffered real abuse and had to live with the outcomes of lobotomies. I remember the seeing the movie Frances, starring Jessica Lange, when it came out in 1982. It was a biopic of the actress Frances Farmer, who had an emotionally abusive mother. As I recall, the mother had Frances institutionalized because she didn't want to play the Hollywood game that she was required, as an actress, to play. She was difficult. She was involuntarily committed and underwent a lobotomy - so much for the acting career and so much for Frances. It is worth noting that Farmer's biography on Wikipedia says that she never underwent the procedure, but the movie was unsettling nonetheless- that is why I remember it.
Why are we glamorizing this? Why are we joking about it?
I remember a friend who used to say, "Just give me Prozac," any time her kids misbehaved or she had a bad day. She apparently didn't realize that I was taking Prozac at the time - for long standing depression. Prozac and other anti-depressants don't make problems go away, doesn't make you not care about them - it works slowly so that the person who takes it can actually address what is wrong. I knew the comments were my friend's clumsy attempts at being funny and dramatic, but the comments were off even then. "Jokes" about lobotomies are way off.
I am reading the book Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image: Learning to love ourselves as we are, by Hillary L. McBride. Julia asked me to read it, because even though her baby Louise is less than a year old, it isn't too early to practice NOT commenting on her body. She is going to be lovely and beautiful no matter what shape she takes as she gets older.
The book shares stories of mothers and daughters that share the many ways that daughters are impacted by the subtle and not-so-subtle messages that they hear and see, including reacting to mothers' reactions to the messages THEY heard and saw, and the ways mothers can minimize the effects of those messages. We are so focused on being slim. Yesterday I was at a party, and the adult daughter of my friend has lost a lot of weight since I saw her last. I was impressed and said so to my friend. Unfortunately, what I said was, "N. has lost a ton of weight!" I was horrified to hear the words leave my mouth as the implication was that N. at one time had a ton of weight to lose. I immediately noted my poor choice of words and apologized. My friend was gracious and said the weight loss was by choice (and, I would imagine, a lot of work). But even as I thought it, I wondered if it was appropriate to say anything about the weight loss to anyone. Was it? I still don't know.
I have started working with a nutritional counselor. I say it is because I want to eat healthier and be my best self. But underneath that is my little insecure self saying adding, "and to be thinner!" But I refuse to diet, and I refuse to give up my evening ice cream, and don't even spend the energy suggesting that I join a gym. I am really working on loving myself as I am because, lets face it, my belly is a little larger than it used to be because it housed two babies, it has had 60+ years to give in to gravity, and I am fortunate to afford all the food I want - good or bad. It is a struggle but one I am winning - most days. Most days I practice thanking all the body parts I have - the strong ones, weak ones, visible ones, invisible ones, clean ones and not so clean ones - for the ways they have allowed and encouraged me to be the person I am.
And now young women are making themselves look ill. And isn't that what women have always done? I just finished listening to Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See about a woman living in 15th century China. Foot binding featured prominently in the story. I think of the women from one of the tribes in Africa who put rings around their necks until the necks are unnaturally long. The women (I don't think men do it, but I'm not sure) who pierce their lower lips and put increasingly large plates in them. I think of the women and girls who have undergone genital mutilation, which is still practiced in some cultures. Why???
And if we aren't subjected to such horrors in our cultures, we still subject ourselves to makeup, panty hose, hair dye and permanents, and high heeled shoes. Why? Some will say it is because a man says we must, but I wonder - what man thought it would be a good idea to break a little girl's feet to make them tiny and call it beautiful? And if it is men who are dictating these things, when are we as women going to stand up and say ENOUGH? It wasn't men who broke the little girl's feet - it was her mother, because she needed to be beautiful. Those who perform genital mutilations are women. Why are we doing these things to ourselves? And now that we know better, why don't we stop? Our obsession with thinness is really just the current form of footbinding. Why?
Each morning I receive Father Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation. This morning Father Richard shared the story of Thomas Merton and his mystical encounter with the divine:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut [now Fourth and Muhammad Ali Boulevard], in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness.… The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream….
According to the citations for the email, this quote comes from Thomas Merton's book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.
Those people - all those people - were loved by Father Merton. They were his and he was theirs, and they could not be alien to one another. How is it then, that women can be so alien to ourselves?
What do we need to do to prove to ourselves that we are created by God, just the way God wants us?
What do we need to do to prove to ourselves that we all carry the light of God within us, and we can't improve on that?
Once we can accept ourselves, how can we accept each other?
Why do we feel such a need to demean each other - a need that is so great that people write books about not doing it?
What do we need to do to recognize and acknowledge the essence of God in EVERY woman we meet?
And before we blame men - I know I've written this before - who taught them it is OK to demean women?
How do we teach our sons that it isn't OK to demean and abuse the women and girls in their lives when we do it to ourselves?
What are we doing to call out sexism, racism, ableism, athletism (I just made that one up - it is not a typo for athleticism) whenever and wherever we see it?
When can we allow ourselves and everyone around us to be who we are, and not extensions of someone else? I'm looking at you, parents, husbands, friends, sisters, wives, grandparents...
We are made in the image of God - and if you tell me God is a man then I will tell you to go back and learn about who God is and isn't.
Please, sisters. Stop with the duckbill pouts and for heaven's sake stop with the dissociative pout. Stop obsessing over the outer appearance and focus on inner health. If you don't like the way photographs portray us don't just change the pose. Just be who you are. If we fetishize lobotomies, they will come back, and God help our daughters if that happens. Stop. Just stop.
Bandara, Pesala. "The lobotomy-chic aesthetic is taking over Instagram." PetaPixel. Dec. 21, 2022. https://petapixel.com/2022/12/21/the-lobotomy-chic-aesthetic-is-taking-over-instagram/. Accessed August 6, 2023.
Center for Action and Contemplation. "True Self, Separate Self." Richard Rohr's Daily Meditations. email, received August 6, 2023.
Moore, Kate. "Speaking Up: The dark American history of silencing women through psychiatry." Time. June 21, 2021. https://time.com/6074783/psychiatry-history-women-mental-health/. Accessed August 6, 2023.
Reilly, Caroline. "The lobotomy-chic trend has an ugly history." Washington Post. August 3, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/08/03/lobotomy-chic-tiktok-social-media-2tennessee-williams/. Accessed August 6, 2023.
West, Mary. "What is a lobotomy? Uses, history, and more." Medical News Today. Updated Feb. 10, 2023. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-is-a-lobotomy. Accessed August 6, 2023