Interview by Robyn Chausse
Destiny, you’ve run a gallery for emerging artists, revamped a shopping center, been instrumental revitalizing your town, and continually raise topics on social issues in your writing. Would you consider yourself an activist? What would you say is the root of your community-oriented ventures?
I hadn’t really thought about my actions that way, though I suppose I am an activist. It’s hard for me to see people in pain and so many are in one way or another. We live in a world that tells us who and how we’re supposed to be from the moment of our birth. Unfortunately, much of this is media driven to drive consumerism, but it twists us and makes us feel ashamed, trapped, alone, or just plain wrong. 40 million people in the US suffer from anxiety and women are more than twice as likely to suffer its affects. There’s something really wrong with this statistic. In my art, writing, and businesses, I try to help people find and use their unique voice. I urge them to be passionate about something, to be okay with making mistakes, and to know they are not alone. When we look beyond our unique experiences, most of us are much the same.
Recently, a man read an advanced review copy of The Romance Diet. The book is geared predominately toward women, but I was really hoping some men would read it too. This man wrote me and said, “I expect that this book will help inspire others to tell their story and to come to grips with their demons. I’ve been contemplating telling my story in a book or play…but don’t feel strong enough to tell my secrets and not die of shame.” He concluded his thoughts with, “None of our stories, inner shame, fears are that different are they?” I think that if we can educate and inspire empathy, we might be able to affect positive change and relieve so many of their pain.
Pipe Dreams was your first novel, I’d call it a mild dystopian novel similar to The Hunger Games. In it, the main character deals with the issues of control, dominance, and abusive situations. Some of these issues had been touched on in Shaping Destiny. Was this a conscious carry over on your part– a way of working through your own feelings or bringing the topics forward for social discussion?
That’s a good question and I guess the answer would have to be yes. As a woman, I’ve wrestled with these issues off and on throughout my life. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to be me and live in a world that requires me to be sexy, but not too sexy, smart, but not too smart, strong, but not too strong. I think this is a dilemma many women face and something we need to talk about more often. In the Romance Diet, I talk at length about how self-doubt – created by these societal norms – undermine even the best relationships. One day, I hope our daughters will live in a world where they are free to be anything and comfortable with themselves. I would love to see girls run out of the house without looking in the mirror or worrying about the consequences.
The Romance Diet, which is due for release in January 2016, follows you and your husband through your shared experience of weight loss and the deeper issues uncovered along the way. Some of this material is deeply personal; how did you come to terms with sharing those parts?
My husband and I felt we didn’t have a choice. What we discovered was so profound, and so insidious, that we thought others could benefit from our story. The change our journey wrought in both of us is on going and earth shattering. I’m not exaggerating. These days, my husband recognizes sexism everywhere. He is hyper-aware of how women belittle themselves and is outspoken against both. In addition, who he is with me is beyond my wildest dreams. Not long ago, I was getting ready to send out the advance review copies of the book. Needless to say, I was nervous. One evening as we drove home he said, “You know, I love you more than my ego.” I was impressed, but baffled. I asked him to explain. He said, “All my life I’ve been taught to be a man. Be strong. Make money. Support my family. I’ve been thinking about your new book a lot and I realized that if you are going to be truly equal in this relationship, if I’m going to support you the way you support me, I have to be willing to give up my ego, my male identity, and figure out a new way of being that makes room for you.”
His words rocked me to my core. He’s always been in support of equality for women, but for the first time this really hit home for him. Since then, there are daily behavioral changes that most women will appreciate. He’s cleaning house. He’s not rolling over me. When I speak, he listens. When I tell him how I feel, he doesn’t blow it off. Instead he listens. He’s crying at movies and talking about his own vulnerabilities. It’s as if the man I love is shaking off shackles neither of us knew he wore. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. Simultaneously, I’m speaking my mind. I don’t hate the mirror or my body anymore. The list goes on and on. When I decided to write this book and he encouraged me, we understood the risk. We wrestled with shame. Then we knew we had no choice but to go forward and hopefully inspire others with what we learned.
You included a section of questions in The Romance Diet; how did you come to include this section?
I asked two trauma therapists who didn’t know me well to be beta-readers for the book. They generously agreed. After reading it, they both felt it was unique and important. They’re academics and have read just about everything important about gender roles, feminism, couples therapy, and women’s studies. They feel there isn’t another book out there that looks at all these issues simultaneously while presenting systemic cultural norms in an accessible way. That was a really big compliment. The long and short of it was that they offered to write the guide. Now we are working together on a follow-up workbook that we hope to release this summer. It is called The Romance Diet Cookbook: Recipes for Healthy Relationships.
You mentioned you are working on The Romance Diet Cookbook, what can you share with us about it?
The cookbook applies our personal life experiences, proven therapeutic practices, and scientific research to a workbook for individuals, couples, and communities. It illuminates the cultural norms that make us feel ashamed or bad about ourselves and shows how those norms invade our relationships, poisoning them in the process. The book is organized like a cookbook. For example, one section is called The Pressure Cooker. Each chapter in it looks at external factors that cause undue stress on a relationship – careers, health, money, kids, etc. – and then provides recipes for managing those stresses with love and empathy.
In Shaping Destiny you wrote, “Art is about more than materials and technique. It is about giving shape and form to who we are and how we see the world.” What new meaning do these words hold for you now?
I don’t know if they hold new meaning as much as the meaning now encompasses more than art. Our lives are our greatest works of art. We can go to school, get degrees, and practice professions. These experiences become our materials and techniques. Regardless of what we do, our experiences give shape to who we are and how we see the world. Every day, we have the opportunity to add a layer of paint to our canvas and improve the masterpiece that will be the sum of our lives.
The Romance Diet: Body Image and the Wars We Wage On Ourselves is available for pre-order and will release on January 11, 2016. To learn more about Destiny Allison and her books please visit http://shapingdestinythebook.com/.