(March 2006) I went to a diva competition last night that was a real hoot.
The post-performance gathering was also quite illuminating.
See, several contestants were overweight by today’s standards, so, as soon as they left the post-performance party, the petty remarks began:
Did you see those flabby arms? Someone should have told her to dance with those ham hocks covered.
How many babies do you reckon she’s had anyway? If you can’t lose the tummy, honey, at least hide it with a girdle.
Good lord! Did you catch a glimpse of those thunder thighs?
(Thighs that were, interestingly enough, primarily on gorgeous African-American and Latina contestants.)
I am relatively fit, yet understand that devotees of our culture’s diet, exercise, fashion, beauty, cosmetic, and plastic-surgery industries can have severely limited images of beauty and health.
And they really don’t like it when audiences crown a diva who doesn’t conform to the narrow standards of beauty these industries promote.
In fact, judging from last night’s behavior, I’d say this makes the scrawny girls downright pissed.
Don’t you wonder why, as a culture, we won’t acknowledge the reality that weight loss, for most of us, does not generally translate into improved chances of survival?
(Newsflash: being skinny does not ensure happiness either, but the pursuit of it can certainly harm people.)
Most of the “fat” divas weren’t really even fat, but were instead what my grandmother called “pleasantly plump”—maybe a size 14.
(You know, like Marilyn Monroe.)
So I’m wondering why we as a culture need to make fun of/marginalize/look with disgust upon moderately overweight people.
Why do we continue to believe that scrawny people are healthier when evidence confirms that being moderately fat by today’s standards isn't even unfit (and it looks a whole lot better on a woman IMHO)?
And let’s remember what the appearance industries don’t want us to acknowledge: 30 thousand Americans die annually from being underweight, in part because we equate with unworthiness.
Here’s some alarming data from Courtney E. Martin’s soon-to-be-published Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters:
In 1995, 34 percent of high school-aged girls in the US thought they were overweight but, today, 90 percent do.
To make matters worse, a survey of contemporary American parents confirmed that 1 in 10 would abort their child if they found out that he or she had a genetic tendency to be fat.
(READ THAT AGAIN. Slowly.)
Commercials feed us the lie that overweight people possess weak character and magazines feed us the lie that normal weight people are fat.
So I’m curious: Do you find it alarming that a recent Ellegirl magazine’s poll of 10 thousand readers found that 30 percent said they would rather be thin than healthy?
Or that over half the young women between the ages of 18 and 25 would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be fat?
No mention is made of the type of appearance-related articles and ads that run in this fashion magazine, but let’s remember that the teenage group most likely to consider or attempt suicide is girls who worry that they are overweight.
My hunch is that most of them measure themselves against models such as the ones found in the pages of Ellegirl too and find themselves wanting.
What’s particularly sad to me is that these girls feel worthless because of their appearance, when their substance, their souls (if you will) are so much more important.
I have rarely measured out my activity in tedious little TS Eliot coffee spoons and did not grow up reading magazines that encourage me to believe that I am inferior and ugly simply because I reject their products and diets and lies.
My friends would tell you that I have a healthy ego despite this obvious lack of social conformity (in between my bouts of insecurity and shyness anyway) and that I am tall, dark and handsome, and I guess what I'm saying is that I feel very fortunate because I've never felt compelled to focus much on what it feels like to present as ugly.
Still, I’m a dyke and one reality of being a dyke is that most of us wind up rejecting our parents’/church’s/peers’/cultures’ ideals in order to live life authentically.
Most of us also present as different, as Other—and, in my case, as more masculine than my mainstream sistuhs(and definitely more cocky).
So yeah, I guess I do have some experience in this arena, despite the fact that I have mostly lived in the interior with little interest in conforming.
Meanwhile, where's the valid nutritional information that is not driven by sales and that does not reject the perfect creature that I know I am? (-;
Where's the information driven by data, not cultural bias?
Maybe I'm just in denial but, to me, a healthy life style does not entail punishing myself or focusing on what I lack, but instead focuses on living in a manner that enables me to be as healthy as possible, both spiritually and physically.
As J. Eric Oliver says in Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America’s Obesity Epidemic, “equating weight loss, instead of life style changes, with improved health is like saying ‘whiter teeth produced by the elimination of smoking reduces the incidence of lung cancer.’”
Okay, I’ll end with the entire quote:
It is not fat itself that is unhealthy, but our hypocritical attitudes and compulsive behaviors that are. We drive two blocks to the grocery store and then spend 20 minutes circling the parking lot so we can get a close spot. Once inside we load up our carts with low-fat, microwave meals and diet shakes filled with artificial everything. In the checkout line, we read about the latest fitness trend in Men's Health or Self, then get back into our cars, drive the two blocks home, and sit in front of the television all night eating Pizza Hut while drinking a liter of Diet Coke. We go to bed late, wake up early, head to work—in our cars, of course—where we will spend the next eight hours stationary and bored. Rinse. Repeat.
The messages are coming in loud and clear, and they are riddled with disempowering dichotomies—all or nothing, feast or famine, disgustingly fat or virtuously thin, deeply flawed or triumphantly perfect. There is no talk of what Buddhists describe as ’the middle path,’ no discussion of the pleasure of walking, eating homemade food, slowing down. There is no permission to say ‘no’ sometimes and ‘yes’ sometimes, and have those no's and yeses be simple answers, insignificant scores on a Scrabble board, representative of nothing more than a mood. Instead our yeses and no's signify our desirability, our life expectancy, our self-worth.
And that’s bullshit. Because, as Martin says, ‘It is not fat itself that is unhealthy, but our hypocritical attitudes and compulsive behaviors that are.”