Born in 1954, I tuned into many of the movements spinning around me, especially the civil rights, anti-war/pro-peace, and of course, feminism. As a teenager, I was deeply influenced by feminist role models (Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Golda Meir), female vocalists (Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Laura Nyro, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin), and the counter-cultural literature of the times. I was determined to work for social justice and join the “revolution” that might make the Holocaust, racism, sexism – all forms of prejudice – history.
In 1976, I enrolled at Harvard Graduate School of Education to work with Carol Gilligan in what was quickly becoming a strong feminist community of researchers. My questions evolved out of my education as a developmental and clinical psychologist and my work with teenage girls – why are so many incredibly bright, talented, and capable teenagers developing these new, life threatening eating disorders? Why girls? Why this form of psychopathology? Why this moment in history? No other psychiatric illness was so stunningly gendered, and no other had such a high mortality rate. It was there that I became one of the first clinical psychologists to bring a feminist perspective to understanding, treating, and preventing eating disorders.
My contribution to this exhibit is the introduction to a curriculum for middle school girls that I co-authored with Lisa Sjostrom called Full of Ourselves: Advancing Girl Power, Health and Leadership – A program promoting body and self esteem and the prevention of eating disorders. Beginning with the most basic feminist tenet – that the personal is political – this multi-generational consciousness-raising curriculum (adult leaders work with 11-13 year olds, who then lead/mentor 8-10 year olds) supports girls in their physical and psychological health. It is a well researched and evaluated eating disorders prevention program that doesn’t mention or teach eating disorders. It teaches girls how to stay connected to their selves and their bodies as the source of their own deepest desires, needs, and opinions; it helps girls identify what matters to them, and to stand up to bullying and teasing at the personal and cultural level. It is an upbeat program about health and resistance that gives girls new perspectives, coping skills, behaviors, and opportunities for empowering “embodied” activism.
Catherine Steiner-Adair is a clinical psychologist, school consultant, author, and teacher whose professional life is devoted to working with kids, parents, and schools. Her clinical work and research in the areas of girls’ development and understanding, treating, and preventing eating disorders is internationally recognized. She has worked in the fields of education and psychology for over twenty-five years, including working throughout Israel, and she has consulted to over 250 Independent and public schools, working with directors, faculty, parents, and students. Her areas of expertise also include boy’s development, the impact of culture on gender identity, social relationships, character development and leadership training, school practices, and parenting strategies. Dr. Steiner-Adair is an Associate Psychologist at McLean Hospital and Clinical Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She has a private psychotherapy practice in Chestnut Hill, MA, where she works with adolescents, adults, couples, and families.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Catherine Steiner-Adair." (Viewed on September 29, 2023) <https://jwa.org/feminism/steiner-adair-catherine>.