Wednesday, March 23, 2005

On Not Being a Runway Model

Hairdressing, DIFFA 2005, Dallas
Originally uploaded by panopticon.

This photo, and some others I think I'll post with the next few of entries, were taken backstage at a charity fashion show in Dallas during my Texas trip at the beginning of the month.

I don't think much of them, but they were a decent first attempt at shooting an unfamiliar situation.

They came to mind after last night's Stitch 'n' Bitch conversation bounced around like a pinball and finally landed on body image and eating disorders.

One of our number is a former model, tall and pretty and notably slender, but even she confessed to feeling intense pressure to be thinner when she was walking the walk.

Startling. One of the chosen few, blessed by nature with an inclination to the shape the media is constantly insisting should be the goal of every woman, and even she's not immune to worry about weight.

When is this going to stop?

Yes, America has a weight problem. When you sit all day, drive everywhere, and eat meals that are too large, it's going to happen.

I've had four close relatives die from complications directly related to morbid obesity, so I know perfectly well how at a certain point body fat becomes a health hazard.

But what about when the amount of fat a person carries isn't really unhealthy, it's just a fact of life?

Why, for example, should a woman who was endowed by her creator with certain unalienable hips feel bad because, from behind, she does not look like a 12-year-old boy?

Granted, it is the nature of a society's ideal of beauty that it will never be wholly embodied by the majority. But how has our own ideal drifted so far towards the utterly unattainable?

Have we become so masochistically involved with media images and mass marketing that we would feel lost if we looked at ourselves in the mirror and appreciated what was there instead of cursing it?

I don't usually like to post rambling entries like this, but the topic keeps turning over in my mind. Maybe leaving the end open will generate discussion, and maybe this will lead to a more carefully-formed piece of writing down the line.

On iTunes right this minute: Joan Sutherland, "O beau pays de La Touraine" from Les Huguenots


Anonymous said...

I think you touched on something important, Franklin, when you said, “Have we become so masochistically involved with media images and mass marketing that we would feel lost if we looked at ourselves in the mirror and appreciated what was there instead of cursing it?”

That really is the key. I think we all know there are unrealistic images out there regarding our bodies. Both in terms of what is healthy on the skinny side and what is healthy for being overweight. But the whole crux of it is this – perfect or not, the place that you have to start is with loving your body and loving your self – exactly the way you are in all your imperfect wonder. Even if you don’t do it all the time, you have to foster some basic element of respect for yourself and who you are. Does that mean stop trying to get physically healthy so you can get emotionally healthy? No. Not at all. Just remember the two go hand in hand. You can’t isolate one from the other. It equals failure.

Four years ago I began to rethink my approach to food. I lost 45 pounds when all was said and done. I became a vegetarian, started eating fruits and vegetables every day, and stopped eating refined grains and processed foods. I even, this past year, managed to stop eating sugar. And believe me, I was an addict. I learned to cook, and learned that I love to cook. And I discovered, as someone somewhere said, that “Cooking is the oldest form of magic.” I use it to nurture myself and remind me that I am worthwhile. Sounds pretty syrupy, but it’s true.

Anyway, sorry if this got a little long...

Anonymous said...

"ah, body fascism. it's not just for women anymore." -- markknitz

That is so true! I have often pointed this out to other women (and usually women who have indicated that they think body image struggles are for women and women only). I'm usually met with confused expressions (or occasionally hostility). And then I point out: Cause you know, there's no media pressure out there for men to have a HUGE penis, rippling muscles, a smooth body with no hair, 6 pack abs, and a full head of hair. Plus, he needs to be sensitive, but not too sensitive. He needs to be manly, but not too manly. Confident, but not cocky. They can't be too fat or too skinny. Etc, etc, etc. We all are potential candidates for impossible standards.

Franklin said...

Amen to both of you, Mark and Rachel (and thanks for the clapotis clarification, Jon). Other people's viewpoints on this subject are fascinating to me.

(Is it possible that poor body image may be the one remaining thing all Americans have in common? Heaven knows we don't seem to able to agree on anything else.)

I actually had started writing about body fascism among men, but realized I couldn't begin to tackle it during my brief writing break.

I will say I've been zapped by it on more than one occasion. For one thing, to be short in the gay community is to be automatically invisible to about half the crowd (happily, I don't mind this - them as likes me, likes me very much).

And I've been told at various times that I should shave all my chest hair, or stop shaving my head, or lose my gut (I have a 29 inch waist), or be more preppy or more alternative or more whateverthehell.

These things roll off my back now, though it has taken years of hard work to get to that point. When I was teenager, and the only acceptable look was smooth-bodied, lily-white preppy, I spent a lot of time crying about it. In fact, between the ages of 13 and 27, I never once looked at myself in the mirror. No joke. Couldn't stand it.

I'm going to mull this topic over and more may come out of it. Thanks again to y'all for sharing. Keep it coming :-)

Anonymous said...

Gee, Franklin, I'm such a mom. You make me want to give you a hug.

moiraeknittoo said...

I'm so overweight I passed 'fat' a long time ago. The reasons for this are much more convoluted than any one person should get into with a stranger's blog, but for the most part, it doesn't bother me. I mean, I am conscious of wanting to live in a more healthy manner, which I make steps toward every day. They're microscopic steps, to be sure, but I'm working on it. Like, eating a bowlful of snap peas instead of a candy bar, or taking the stairs at work when I can. I'm not sure it's really that much healthier, but it makes me feel better!

I think, for a lot of people, that it's easier to obsess about something this trivial and, well, *vain* than it is to take a step back and take a hard look at their lives. I'll admit that this is a grand, sweeping generalization, but I know plenty of people who pour their energy into maintaining a weight and a body image that is completely unnatural in order to avoid thinking about things that should feed their soul instead.

I'll take a fat ass and a happy soul over miserable and skinny any day.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, this is a huge topic for me right now. I have three daughters, and some of the comments I hear them make about themselves and other girls send chills down my spine. And I have gone out of my way to tell them how beautiful they are and to NEVER talk badly about my own body, however dissatisfied I am feeling with it at the moment. But it's beginning to feel like a losing battle, with everyone elses opinion carrying more weight than mine (I never believed MY mom when she told me I was beautiful either).
But I can't give up telling them how lovely they are, or that the hips they are hating because they won't fit into the jeans Hollister is marketing as "skinny" are womanly and pretty, or that the jacket marked XL is really freakishly small, because if I don't tell them, who will?
I tell them that men/women don't really want skeletal women as lovers, they just make good models because they so closely resemble coat hangers.
Thanks for bringing this up! I'm enjoying your posts very much. You are a lovely man, inside as well as out.

Sakebottleswing said...

It has taken me a while, but I've started to become more comfortable with how I look. I have breasts, my stomach isn't perfectly flat, and I have hips that wouldn't fit into most jeans. What I bemoan is the fact that because of these unrealistic standards of beauty, I can't buy clothes that fit/look good on me because I don't fit the body type they were made for. I know my body is lovely, but it seems everyone who's clothes I want to buy is telling me otherwise.

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