Chewing the fat

I’ve been thinking about Broadsheet’s Plus-size state of the union post all day. The gist of the post is that at the same time that our society is starting to at least acknowledge non-stick-figure models of feminine beauty the recession is causing some retailers — such as Old Navy and Anne Taylor — to do away with their plus-size offerings. (For the most part, it’s about costs; more fabric = more costs.)

I’m conflicted about this topic on so many levels.

On the one hand, I am for all intents and purposes a plus-size woman. And while I don’t kid myself into thinking I am Helen of Troy beautiful, I like to think that my body weight does not effect my body beauty.  But regardless of my weight (because once upon a time in a land far away I was “skinny”), I’ve always been a feminist. So there is the side of me that wants to see the idea of female beauty change and have less rigid boundaries. I want to see a variety of shapes, sizes, races, sexualities, gender paradigms (why does it make us uncomfortable to see a butch dyke as a representative of female beauty?) and body types (by which I mean handicapped, post-mastectomy and even amputee) all represented in our idea of what is beautiful. I mean, we can do better than skinny, white, blonde, blue-eyed, boob-bulging models can’t we?

Now, I’m not going hippie on you. (Dear God, no!)  I’m not saying we should all hold hands and sing folk songs. I’m not saying that by virtue of being alive we all get participation ribbons in the beauty contest. Some people are more beautiful than others. That’s just life. But I think there’s a difference between saying a specific individual is beautiful and labeling all of one beauty “type” (only members of a certain race, weight class, body type, etc.)  as the standard of beauty for all.

So, what’s in my other hand? Well, I worry about the correlation between weight and health. Is it the right message to say that being overweight (and by this I mean 20 pounds or more over what would be considered healthy on medical standards) is beautiful or sexy? We don’t say that smoking is sexy anymore because we know it causes cancer. Well, we know that being overweight can lead to a variety of health problems such as diabetes, heart problems, immune system issues and more. So where is the line between wanting to change the unrealistic and misogynistic beauty standard and confronting the reality of one type of body? (Full disclosure:  I am actively trying to lose weight because my doctors have told me there is a strong correlation between my excess weight and certain health issues I have. As I’ve written before, I’ve taken up running, among other things, and changed my diet.) I’m not indicting other people who are overweight; I’m still one of them right now.

I adamantly disagree with beauty standards that keep women down — like weight and make-up rules for cocktail waitresses and bartenders on the Strip. But while I don’t think a woman should lose her job as a waitress because she gained 5 pounds (or got pregnant), I don’t necessarily think we should put an obese person up on a pedestal.

It’s a tricky line. I get mad when people call Beth Ditto a porker. And I really don’t want young girls thinking there’s something wrong with them if they don’t look like Kate Moss. I hate tabloid articles with photos of celebrities that say things like so-and-so “binge-eats and has gained 50 lbs!” We shouldn’t vilify women who are overweight either. So how do we put the breaks on the skinny obsession without glorifying an equally unhealthy body type? And where does that leave us plus-size gals in the meantime?

3 thoughts on “Chewing the fat

  1. It has occurred to you that butch dykes don’t really look much like women, right? Mostly they look like Hell’s Angels and Hell’s Angels aren’t even a sex symbol for men.

  2. I think people who are unhealthy – in any way- have unbalanced lives. They compensate for something by overdoing something else. It can be something as little as being stressed at work or as big as getting your home foreclosed.

    But we can’t go up to everyone and ask “is your life balanced?” because it’s largely a personal issue. So we use shortcuts like thinness to show others what healthy means.

    No matter who or what body type we exemplify, it could turn out later on that they were abusing painkillers.

    I say we do away with the pedestal and concentrate on our own individual balance. That is, instead saying “I want to look like X” we should say, “I want to fix X in my life so that I may be healthy.”

    Unfortunately, advertisers and magazines would lose a lot of money 😉

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