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Ask Carrie: Winter 2022

A new column from Carrie Brownstein, who is better at dispensing advice than taking it

Ask Carrie: Winter 2022

Carrie Brownstein
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Dear Carrie,

I’m a musician based in Brooklyn, and I reluctantly find myself trying to understand TikTok. I’ve always struggled to navigate social media, and these days it seems there’s no possible way of getting my music to the people if my band and I are not perpetually creating content. I even tried to go the Halsey and Charli XCX route and made some TikToks about how hard it is to make TikToks, but I’m not famous enough, so no one really cared. Is it naive to think I can just create and produce my own work and listeners will somehow find me? Should I just forget about this whole social media marketing thing if it doesn’t feel natural to me?

Thanks,

Bushwick Uninfluencer

Brooklyn, NY

Dear Bushwick Uninfluencer,

First, I hope you take comfort in the fact that you are not the only person—young or old—struggling to understand TikTok, or to be confounded and exhausted by social media as a marketing tool. Next, try to rid yourself of the burden to create online content; I feel certain that’s not the reason we were put on this earth. In fact, I find the idea of “content” to be incredibly cynical, reductive, and unimaginative. The rebranding of every aspect of our lives as content feels like one of the biggest (and darkest) victories for late-stage capitalism. I admit, some people are quite good at being content creators, and that’s probably because they actually enjoy it (or are masters at making the viewer believe they enjoy it). This isn’t to say you shouldn’t want to make money with your music or have fans or even get famous! Go for it! But the idea that content is tantamount to art is degrading. There is no faster way to forfeit uniqueness or grow weary than to reframe your passions as void-filling pabulum, particularly if you’re doing so against your will. My advice is to stay true to yourself, focus on the music and songwriting, and become an artist who can perform live and command the stage. I can’t guarantee it won’t break your heart or be difficult. But would you rather have a moment or a career? I think the latter comes from being authentic and developing a strong point of view, and if neither is possible while creating content, avoid it. Trust that people will find your music. 

Dear Carrie,

Why is the weather always wrong?

Heike D. 

Madison, WI

Dear Heike,

Is it the weather or is it you? Or me? Or all of us? In other words, bad weather is the easiest and most obvious thing to blame for our ongoing dissatisfaction with life. Maybe we should be thankful for the pouring rain that ruined our visit to the llama farm. And feel gratitude for the scorching heat and blazing sun that made everyone look pained, armpit-soaked, and squinty-eyed in the annual family photo. If we couldn’t blame our woes on the weather, then, frankly, we’d have to blame ourselves or one another. The weather’s consistent failure to meet our expectations has likely prevented countless arguments and divorces. And don’t get me started on how the weather does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to small talk. Last, images and anecdotes about the weather’s wrongness are a staple of social media, so let’s not rob people of that joy. 

Dear Carrie, 

I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to manage a male partner who is constantly pointing out that I’m overweight. Could I lose a few pounds? Yes. But I would not by any means consider myself overweight. This has become a chronic topic of conversation that always results in tears (for me) and frustration (for him). And now it has crept into comments about my food choices, etc. I don’t agree that it should be a “free” topic, and my stance has been that this type of communication is not helpful, but he disagrees. Am I totally off base to think that this is somewhat taboo? I have multiple friends, male and female, who have never had this topic broached in any way by their partner. And I don’t think the resentment or insecurity it elevates in me are helpful. I should add that I routinely keep up on my doctor visits and my overall health is in good shape. What would you do?

Lucy

St. Louis, MO 

Dear Lucy,

The first thing I want to say is that it’s not OK for anyone to body-shame you. Perhaps I’m not the first person to say that to you, and I may not be the last—because sometimes we all need to hear things multiple times before we believe them, and that’s all right!—but here is the bottom line: your partner’s behavior is not merely “taboo”; it is harmful. 

It sounds like you’ve tried to set a boundary: you’ve told your partner that his comments about your weight and food choices are unhelpful and leave you feeling insecure, and that you want him to stop. Yet he’s choosing to ignore that boundary. I find it ironic that your partner is supposedly concerned about your health while blatantly ignoring the deleterious effects his comments are having on your emotional and mental well-being. 

Since I mentioned health, a quick detour to reiterate something you hinted at in your letter. You are correct that body size is not indicative of health. For more info, I reached out to my friend Caity Robinson (MPH, RDN, CD), and this is what she said: “There always has been and always will be inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes. ‘Health’ is a culmination of factors, many of which go beyond a person’s individual behaviors.”

Basically, your partner’s comments are not about your health but rather about his highly subjective and narrow standards of beauty. Which brings me to my next point: you deserve to be with someone who (1) loves you for who you are, (2) doesn’t shame you, and (3) makes you feel safe, heard, respected, and beautiful. 

So if I were you, and if all the other aspects of your relationship with this man make it worth working on, I would clearly and unequivocally state my boundary one last time. Ask him to stop the comments and criticism. Tell him that your body is not up for debate, nor is your weight a “free” topic of conversation. I would also let him know how hurtful his behavior has been. Furthermore, I might see if he’s open to some self-examination and reflection of his own.

Does he or someone in his family have a history of disordered eating that makes food a sensitive topic for him? Is he insecure about his own body and projecting that onto you? Is there something else he’s upset about? In other words, perhaps there’s a way this can become a productive dialogue about what you need and want out of this partnership. 

But, Lucy, please always remember the bottom line—that is, it’s not OK for anyone to body-shame you! And remember what you deserve! Because I really want you to feel loved! And not to feel like you need to change anything about yourself for the sake of someone else! You don’t! Sorry, I can’t stop using exclamation points! But I really mean it. 

Finally, if your partner isn’t willing to change and do some work on himself, then here’s what I’d do, in all honesty: I’d lose the only weight that’s holding you back, and that’s the weight of this man and this relationship. 

OK, before I go: if you need further inspiration and ballast, Caity kindly gave me recommendations to pass on:

Books

  • The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor
  • Decolonizing Wellness: A QTBIPOC-Centered Guide to Escape the Diet Trap, Heal Your Self-Image, and Achieve Body Liberation by Dalia Kinsey 
  • Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness through Intuitive Eating by Christy Harrison 
  • Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’shaun L. Harrison 
  • You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar 
  • What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon
  • Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
  • Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Podcasts

  • Maintenance Phase 
  • Food Psych

Dear Carrie,

I live in a small town. A rumor started that I am in the CIA. It was funny at first, but now it’s not. People genuinely seem to believe that I’m a spy, and everything I say, no matter how innocuous it might be, is further proof to them that I am one. I have always been transparent and honest in all my relationships, even if it cost me. I feel insulted and misunderstood. What should I do?

Name Withheld

Location Withheld

Dear Name Withheld,

It makes me nervous even to answer this question, because I don’t want to end up on a watch list. Not to say that you are in the CIA. But if you are—and this isn’t an accusation—could you please give me a sign? Can you call me on my cell phone, right now, without me giving you my number? Could you start my car remotely? Are you currently sitting next to me on my sofa, disguised as my dog? I’m waiting… Hm, it’s been a full ten minutes, and none of those things came to fruition. I will soldier on. BTW, I mean “soldier on” figuratively; I don’t have any military training; please don’t perceive me as a threat. Anyhow, I will now proceed to give advice to an average citizen who’s presented me with a completely run-of-the-mill question. Wink, wink. Dammit. This is harder than I thought. OK, Name Withheld, I suppose if you’re hell-bent on changing the narrative, you could use your training (I’m not saying you have any special training, of course) to place secret messages inside people’s smart speakers. Alexa, is my friend a spy? Alexa: No. Stop being paranoid. Your friend is not a spy. They’re obviously just a very private person with a dubious income source who travels frequently for work and has never invited you into their home. Now playing Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” for the next twenty-four hours. Alternatively, what if, instead of feeling misunderstood, you embraced the whole CIA thing?! What if you hosted a CIA Day in your small town or rode atop a CIA-themed float at the next parade? You could make T-shirts for everyone that say, i’m not a spy but my friend is! Because I imagine that part of the fun for your fellow townspeople is the mystery, and once that’s gone, they’ll likely move on to new speculations. Like, I’m curious about who’s leading this charge that you’re a spy. Seems like a diversionary tactic to me…

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