Meet Chicago native Leslie Goldman: women’s health writer, book author, body image expert and speaker, spokesperson. You’ll see her byline on the feature stories and essays she regularly contributes to magazines like O: The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Runner’s World, and more. She is also a featured columnist on espnW.com and blogs at the Huffington Post and HealthBreaksLoose. Leslie’s book Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image, and Re-imagining the “Perfect” Body, has been featured on the Today Show, where she is also a frequent guest. She has visited dozens of colleges and universities, delivering her talk on women and body image. Let’s not leave out that Leslie works out 6 days a week, has a baby on the way, and is the type of woman you just want to be friends with when you meet her. Inspired yet? We were and that’s why it was a privilege for us to have the opportunity to speak with Leslie about her passion for educating and empowering women about their health. Leslie Goldman is a Woman You Should Know.
10 Questions with Leslie Goldman
WYSK:You write about women’s health and fitness for major magazines and online news outlets. Was professional writer always your career path or did you fall into it?
LG: I totally fell into it. I was a nutritional sciences major with plans to be a doctor. I was an A student, but during my sophomore year at University of Wisconsin-Madison, I answered an ad for the Badger Herald looking for writers, and fell in love with journalism. My beats included, among others, health, and writing came very naturally to me. So, I realized I could combine my passion for medicine, nutrition and fitness with writing to help educate fellow students. During a senior year journalism workshop, I met Professor Al Gunther who instilled in me the belief that I had the talent to become a professional writer. He was a great mentor and truly changed the trajectory of my career.
WYSK:Writing is such a vast landscape in regard to subject matter. Why did you decide to focus on women’s health?
LG: With a bachelor of science in nutritional sciences, a master’s degree in public health and a five-year foundation writing for the American Medical Association, health has always been my main focus so it naturally translated into what I write about. Women need to be empowered to take care of their health, and they need to have good information. I wanted to be the one to deliver that kind of information. I now contribute to national magazines such as O: The Oprah Magazine, Health, Natural Health, Glamour, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, espnW.com and several online forums devoted to women’s health and self-esteem. Much of my writing offers a first person perspective so that the women reading my articles or columns know that they are not alone.
WYSK:Aside from the host of women’s health related subjects you have written about over the last decade, a lot of your work focuses on women’s body image issues and self-esteem. Why is raising awareness of this topic so important to you?
LG: Like many women, I developed an eating disorder during my freshman year in college. It threw my life and my family’s life into a tailspin. After recovering a year later with support from doctors from UW-Madison’s University Health Services, I went on to help many other young women on campus struggling with this problem. It was important to me to use my own story and experience to try to help other women, then and now.
WYSK:What are the most common issues women have with their bodies?
LG: The universal is that most women have something they hate about their body. I have interviewed hundreds of women and almost everyone has a body part or area that they loathe… their thighs, their stomach, their nose, their breasts. When it comes to women’s body image, I find that there is a “grass is always greener” mentality; women with flat chests wish they had implants and women with double Ds are sick of strapping them down with multiple sports bras just to go work out.
One of the really sad body image truths I have discovered in my work is the fact that many women only come to embrace their bodies for what they can do versus how they look, when one of two things happens: they get much older, like in their 60s or 70s, or they experience some sort of life threatening calamity, like cancer. But, I will tell you that I have also met some women in their 70s who are still very, very concerned about how their bodies look or who are still obsessing about the numbers on the scale. It’s depressing to talk to these women because body image issues are a lifelong torture for them.
WYSK:Do most women develop these issues based on their own perception of themselves or are they more likely to come from external influences (i.e. criticism from someone else, images they see in the media, comparing themselves to other women)?
LG: It’s actually both – a combination of genetic and environmental factors – and research bears that out. Every woman in our society is bombarded with unattainable images in magazines, in music videos, in diet food commercials; we all see them, but not everyone develops an eating disorder, so there’s clearly something going on genetically in some women. There is a great quote that speaks to this very point: “Our genetics load the gun and our environment pulls the trigger.” It’s from a book on obesity by Judith Stern, a renowned Nutritionist & Obesity Expert from the University of California-Davis.
When I go and give talks at universities, I have college women who line up afterwards to speak with me. Many of them cry and tell me how their boyfriend calls them fat or their mother tells them they need to lose weight or their athletic coach is pushing them to drop pounds. So the pressure is coming from everywhere, but it does come from within us too.
WYSK:Self-acceptance can be one of life’s great challenges. How can a woman break the spell of focusing only on the negatives she sees in the mirror?
LG: This is a tough question because I’m not a therapist, but one thing that I believe does help is to think about the words you say to yourself, the ways you insult your body. Then ask yourself, “Would I ever say that to someone I love?” Would you ever say to your grandmother, “your butt is huge and disgusting”? Would you ever call your best friend and say, “you look SO FAT in those jeans”? It all seems silly and will probably make you laugh because it’s ridiculous to think that any of us would ever say those kinds of things to the people we care about. Yet that kind of language makes up the constant inner dialogue that’s running 24/7 in some women’s heads. Why is it ok to dump that kind of negativity on ourselves? It shouldn’t be.
As for making peace with the mirror, you certainly can’t live your whole life without looking in one, so that option is out. But, there is a difference between looking in the mirror and obsessively looking in the mirror. It got to the point with me where I was always turning around and looking at my butt’s reflection because my butt was the thing that I hated. I hated the cellulite and I felt like it was disgusting. Eventually, I taught myself to just stop looking at it. It may sound like I was ignoring the problem, but that wasn’t the case. I learned to change my behavior because I realized that I was obsessing too much about my butt, constantly checking and rechecking it. Psychologists call this behavior “body checking”. Some women do it where they’ll pinch flab on their belly or they’ll put their hands around their waist to see if they fit or they’ll squeeze their hips. Women do all kinds of body checking including looking in the mirror constantly at a certain body part. None of it is healthy.
WYSK:How did you come to write your book Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image and Re-imagining the “Perfect” Body?
LG: I work out a lot, and as a result, I’m in the locker room a lot, and I would overhear women talking to each other, making comments about themselves and trading barbs. I would also watch women line up to get on this huge Toledo scale in my locker room – it’s kind of like one of those carnival scales that has the giant red weight indicator needle. I would see the way the women would kick-off their flip flops and they would drop their towel or they would take off their watch, just to get the last couple of ounces off. And then you would see them step on the scale, look at the number and instantly their shoulders would slump over and their whole body would deflate. I saw this and I thought, “Wow, the women’s locker room is like a little microcosm of society.” All of the problems that women face when it comes to body image are right there, in the locker room. We compare ourselves to the women next to us; we stare at ourselves in the mirrors. So, it just seemed like a great place to get the foundation for a body image book. Several hundred interviews and conversations later with women both in and out of the locker room, I wrote it.
WYSK:What’s the craziest thing you heard in the ladies’ locker room, specific to a vehicle, procedure or practice that was used to achieve physical “perfection”?
LG: In my locker room, we have two different scales. So, there’s the Toledo carnival/deli meat scale and then there’s the more standard type scale that you’d see at your doctor’s office, and they are located in two different areas of the locker room. I will watch women go from one scale to the other to weigh themselves and then compare the numbers. Then they’ll see their friends and say things like, “Use that scale today. It’s the good scale.” This is said as they point to the scale that gave them the number that made them feel better, even if it’s off by a couple of pounds.
WYSK:Since you’ve been so open about your own body image issues and your personal struggle with an eating disorder, do you think it makes it easier for the women you speak with to relate to you knowing that you have been there yourself and are not just a “professional” expert?
LG: Absolutely. I think that there is an automatic sense of bonding and shared history when you talk to another woman who has gone through the same experience. It was also proof that my personal struggle had a deeper purpose.
WYSK:What’s next for you?
LG: I’m pregnant now and I really want to write a book about the fertility struggle my husband and I experienced. But, I want it to be fun, not a morose, downer of a book. There are some funny aspects to the IVF process. Just today I was making a list of things I said to my husband during our experience with it that if you didn’t know what we were going through could be construed as being really sexy, but were totally not. Like asking him, “Wait… where did you put it in last time?” What I actually meant was which one of my butt cheeks did he inject with progesterone the night before; he had to inject me left, right, left, right. So, again, I want the book to be fun and I want it to have other women’s stories in it. So, that’s what’s next for me and, obviously, having the baby… I need to do that (laughter).
WYSK:In your bio on espnW, you describe yourself as a die-hard workout junkie, followed by the disclaimer that your high school athletic experience was limited to sophomore-year color guard. We love that! When did you first embrace fitness as a lifestyle?
LG: I work out a lot. To me, there is no feeling like peeling off a drenched sports bra and shorts; it’s my ultimate stress reliever. I’m also not the best sleeper so I if I can work out really hard, it sometimes helps me sleep a little more. Typically, I work out 6 days a week; I do some sort of cardio for 5 of those days and I do weight training twice a week. But, it’s a little different now that I’m pregnant.
The person who really introduced me to working out is my Grandfather, Morty Schur. There is a joke in our family that my Grandfather “invented jogging” because he founded Road Runners and really helped popularize jogging as new form of exercise. So, he got me interested in working out. I was in high school when I started going to his gym. I’d take step classes. I’d do the recumbent bike. He and I would sit in the co-ed sauna afterwards and talk and bond. It was great. He’s 87 and he still swims.
In regard to my lack of athletic experience in the organized sports sense, it’s ironic that I am a columnist for espnW because I literally know nothing about sports. I’ll be writing these columns and I’ll have to email my husband and say, “Is it called a hockey match or a hockey game?” I need him to tell me the answer because I’ll need a little detail like that for the story. But, what I write about is kind of like the intersection of pop culture and athletics or sports so it’s not like I’m giving a blow by blow of a football game.
WYSK:We love your espnW training column “Talking Smack” as there is so much great info on all aspects of training and fitness for women. What advice can you give to women who can’t seem to find the time to work out or who can’t find the will power to stick with a fitness/health regimen?
LG: It’s funny that a lot of women love how working out makes them feel, but it’s the first thing that gets tossed aside from their routine. I never ask myself the question “Am I going to have time to work out today?”; it’s just always “When am I working out?” It has become part of my day and I don’t think of it as being any different than eating dinner. Honestly, I become a bit of a cranky bitch if I don’t get to work out.
So, if women who struggle with sticking to a workout routine can change fitness from a possibility to something that is built into their day then I think it makes it a lot easier to maintain as a lifestyle. Also, if a woman can find something that she loves doing that just happens to be exercise that’s a lot better for some. For example, a lot of women hate walking on the treadmill, loathe riding the stationary bike or think of the Stairmaster as torture so they associate exercise with all that negativity. Maybe that means that they need to do something that doesn’t even involve stepping foot in a gym, like going on a hike. Or if they like music they could try a fun class like Zumba or Hip Hop that will get their heart rate up, but won’t make them feel that sense of dread they feel on the Stairmaster.
To learn even more about Leslie Goldman visit her personal site.