Today is Love Your Body Day and is this is our favorite body positive post of the year, re-posted in celebration. Enjoy these seven beautiful minutes in which Kara Kamos explains that she is ugly and she couldn’t care less (most of the time):
What’s more important than being beautiful?
New life forms
Personally, I really identified with the discussion that starts at 3:51 about not letting how she looks get in the way of her doing things. Often when I’m asked to do public speaking or appear on video, a part of me silently asks the question, “Am I attractive enough to deserve to do this?” The question is absurd. Not because I AM pretty enough, but because the question assumes that, if I weren’t, I would turn down an opportunity on that basis alone. And that is plain silliness.
We all know — because we are being constantly reminded — that we are, collectively, getting fat. Americans are at the forefront of the trend, but it is a transnational one. Apparently, it is also transspecies: pets, wild animals, and laboratory animals are also gaining weight. Here’s some country-level data from the New York Times:
In an excellent review of the existing literature, David Berreby at Aeon skewers the idea that a simple, victim-blaming “calories in, calories out” model can explain this extraordinary transnational, transspecies rise in overweight and obese individuals. I won’t summarize his argument here, except to simply list the casual contenders for which there is good evidence:
Famine in previous generations
If you ever want to have an opinion on fat again, read Berreby now.
In May we featured a block of cheese that inspired quite the response. Riffing off the name “Monterey Jack,” a company was selling “Monterey Jill”: the same old cheese, but reduced fat. It was an excellent example of the way dieting is feminized.
People — myself included — were pretty stunned to see gendered cheese; who knew this was going to be a thing. In fact, Liam sent us an example of gendered string cheese with the exact same theme: there’s string cheese animated by a male character and reduced-fat string cheese animated by a female character. Also, they’re surfing; aaaaaand I have no analysis of that.
If this PostSecret confession doesn’t break your heart, you are a bad person.
Last week I chatted with the Canadian Broadcasting Company for a segment they’re doing on humor and power. I used hateful jokes about fat people as an example of how patterns in comedy reveal our biases: who it is okay to revile, whose feelings we can dismiss, who we see as less-than-human.
I was surprised when the host said that some argue that pointing out people’s weight isn’t offensive because it’s “just a fact.” I responded, “Sociologists don’t believe in that kind of fact.” Two hundreds years ago being called fat would have been a compliment: it represented power, success, wealth, and (yes) health. Today the meaning of fat has changed. The word is now a weapon. For the person who wrote this secret, fatness is not a fact; it’s a “humiliat[ion].” This is what dehumanization feels like.
Whoever you are, I wish I could give your warm, comfy body a big giant hug.
A Brazilian modeling agency, Star Models, recently released a new series of anti-anorexia PSA advertisements. They illustrate one of the ways ultra-thin body ideals characterizing women’s bodies in the fashion industry today are institutionalized, or made part of the way we “do” fashion. Fashion sketches — the way that people communicate designs to one another — idealize these bodies, with their exaggerated proportions, long slender limbs, and expressionless faces. The PSAs place real women alongside the sketches, graphically altered to similar proportions, in order to problematize the ideal.
Sociology professors are constantly asking students to analyze what they might be taking for granted. One issue we take for granted is that the images on the left are what “fashion” looks like and ought to look like. That they are culturally recognizable as fashion sketches speaks to the ways in which hyper-thin feminine bodies are institutionalized at a fundamental level in the fashion industry today.
The Dove Evolution video – as a part of their “Campaign for Real Beauty” — vividly illustrates the work that goes into the production of advertisements. Using a time-lapse video depicting the diverse labor that goes into the production of an ad was a simple illustration of the impossibility of contemporary beauty ideals. Viewers are left thinking, “Of course we can’t look like that. She doesn’t even look like that.”
Star Models’ anti-anorexia ads promote a similar message, but also call our attention to the more dangerous aspects of adherence to industry ideals. Similar to depictions of what Barbie might look like as a real woman, altered images of dangerously thin models aside these sketches have a very different feel from the sketches they imitate.
What is being done about it?
In 2007, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) passed a Health Initiative in recognition of an increasingly global concern with the unhealthily thin bodies of models and whether/how to promote change in the industry. The CFDA is working to better educate those inside the industry to identify individuals at risk, to require models with eating disorders to seek help and acquire professional approval to continue working, to develop workshops promoting dialog on these issues, and more.
The CFDA’s Health Initiative, however, treats eating disorders as an individual rather than social problem. This allows the CFDA to obscure the role it might play in perpetuating cultural desires for the very bodies it purports to “help” with the Health Initiative.
Susan Bordo famously wrote about anorexia as what she termed “the crystallization of culture.” We like to draw firm boundaries between normality and pathology. But Bordo suggests that anorexia is more profitably analyzed as culturally normative than as abnormal. Similarly, Star Models’ PSAs play a role in framing the fashion industry as (at least partially) responsible for ultra-thin feminine body ideals. Yet, they arguably fall short of providing institutional-level solutions as the tagline — ”You are not a sketch. Say no to anorexia.” — concentrates on individuals.
The CFDA’s focus on health initiatives and support for individuals suffering from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders are critical aspects of recognizing issues that seem to plague the fashion industry. While this surely helps some individual women, the initiatives simultaneously avoid the cultural pressures (in which the fashion industry arguably plays a critical role) that work to systematically conflate feminine beauty with ultra-thin ideals. Similar to problems associated with focusing attention only on the survivors of sexual assaults (failing to recognize the ways that sexual violence is both institutionalized and embedded in our culture), these images simply illustrate that individual-level solutions are unlikely to produce change precisely because they fail to locate “the problem” and ignore the diverse social institutions and ideals that assist in its reproduction.
Thanks to a student in my Sociology of Gender course, Sandra Little, for bringing this campaign to my attention.
I mean we all know that dieting and women go together like peas and carrots. We know this — collectively and together, even if we don’t agree that it should be this way – not because it’s inevitable or natural, but because we constantly get reminded that womenshouldbeondiets and dietingis afeminineactivity.
@msmely tweeted us a fabulous example of this type of reminder. It’s a reduced fat block of Monterey Jack cheese, re-named “Monterey Jill.” There’s curvy purple font and a cow in pearls with a flower, in case you missed the message. And, oh, on the odd chance you thought that this was about health and not weight, there’s a little sign there with a message to keep you on track: “Meet Jack’s lighter companion.”
So now we’ve gendered cheese and managed to affirm both the gender binary (heavy vs. light), heterocentrism (Jack’s companion Jill), and the diet imperative for women. And it’s just cheese people! Cheese!