Thursday, April 03, 2008

Fat Chicks & The Ideal Body

Last week, I noted the British would-be beauty queen's desire to break the mold. She is plus-sized. She is young and most everyone thought she was beautiful. Should she be in the competition? I mean... What are beauty pageants about anyway? In this politically correct world, solving humanitarian crises and being talented are weighted heavier, than, er, weight. Right. In the real world, it's her bikini and her dress and her face. It's a beauty pageant.

A friend of mine noted that beauty pageants are about achieving an ideal. And it seems that these days, it's politically incorrect to say you prefer fit and thin people, but when it comes down to brass tacks, people still feel free to secretly condemn fat people.

I know. I know. I'm talking about two different things. On the one hand, I find it ridiculous that the physical ideal is being defined down when it comes to something that is purely aesthetic. On the other hand, it seems that fat people are the last bastion of hate. Consider this research:

Puhl, who has been studying weight discrimination for nine years, said our culture has made it clear that it's wrong to discriminate against someone because of race, color, creed, gender, age and so forth, but that it's OK to show someone the door because he or she is fat.

"We send a message to citizens in our culture that this is something that is tolerated," she said. "We live in a culture where we obviously place a premium on fitness, and fitness has come to symbolize very important values in our culture, like hard work and discipline and ambition. Unfortunately, if a person is not thin, or is overweight or obese, then they must lack self-discipline, have poor willpower, etc., and as a result they get blamed and stigmatized."

Women in particular are harassed and weight is often the way a woman is disparaged. For example, blogger Violet Blue, a woman who blogs about sex says this:
I just write and talk about sex. But every woman on the Internet gets called slutty and ugly and fat (to put it lightly) no matter what; all we have to be is female. In dinner conversation, my friend Lori reminded me of the Oscar Wilde quote, "Give a man a mask, and he'll tell you the truth." I restated it for the Internet, replying, "Give a man a mask, and he'll slit your throat." The application here is, "Give a man (or a woman) an anonymous account, and he'll eviscerate your self-esteem."

The problem is, with so many women I talk to, the trolling is effective. The number of times I've talked down a crying girlfriend after she's been trolled in her comments about being fat, ugly, skanky, slutty or stupid is higher than I can count (no matter what she writes about). Trolls watch too much mainstream porn and TV, and believe stereotypes are real; they slap us with it and then we believe it, too. We compare ourselves to overly thin models, actresses, and porn stars, and it messes with our self-image and our ability to express ourselves sexually, and especially to enjoy sex.
And that is most definitely true. Go onto any blog and you don't see a man disparaged for his weight or face. It just doesn't happen. Rarely, a man's sex life or private parts are brought into the issue. Women, well, they just get it. They get reduced to the physical and sexual.

Is the blogosphere representative of society as a whole? To a certain extent. Women are harshly judged by their looks and their bodies. People are judged as lacking in character if they pack on the pounds. They are considered stupid. They are the butt of jokes.

In addition, the ideal seems pin-thin Hollywood girls. No one can measure up. And yet, there's a backlash against this trend, thus the chubby British girl going for the beauty pageant.

I think there are two things going on. First, I think the ideal needs to be thin and healthy but not anorexic. So the British girl should either lose some weight and get fit or get out of the running. It seems ridiculous to have a beauty pageant not be abut beauty. Second, the bias against fat people should be expunged from society but I don't expect it to be. People are visual. People view fat as controllable, and a reflection of a person's character.

As long as people have eyes, people will judge visually. There will be prejudice. However, the standards or ideal shouldn't be changed to make us feel better. There's enough political correctness these days. We don't need to go down this road with beauty queens. Beauty queens need to be, well, ideally beautiful.


Chalmers said...

There is something ironic about judging people at work for being fat... many of them don't have time to go to the gym because they are working 12 hours a day, eating fast food at their desk and barely get home to be with family. If Americans had the same view on work that the Euros have, we would all punch out at 4:30, head to the gym for half an hour and then to the pub.

-Little Brother

SGT Ted said...

I'd say that the reason women are criticized for their looks is because it gets a reaction; it works when used against a female. Can you imagine a man blubbering to his freinds that someone said he had a little penis or was fat?

Anonymous said...

I prefer to refer to myself as being "fluffy" or "big boned" !!

Anonymous said...

Yep, I'm with SGT Ted there.

"Women, well, they just get it. They get reduced to the physical and sexual."

Noooooo ... you women *allow* yourselves to be reduced to the physical and sexual. Let us contrast your reaction to that reduction

"The number of times I've talked down a crying girlfriend is higher than I can count..."

In contrast, let us take me; in the last 14 months, due to rather stressful circumstances, I've ballooned out some 30 pounds and have crossed into clinical obesity, never mind mere "fat". Contrary to your assertion, this gets remarked on fairly frequently. But I don't cry about it. I take it as quite properly deserved feedback that I have a serious problem that I need to fix. And I am in the process of doing so. But I do not allow myself to be reduced to the physical, as you women do, so I do not cry about this, it has about the same emotional significance as that I should wash my car more often, or any other purely physical and correctable problem.

And until women disconnect physical details from their emotional self-image, like I do, and most men do, then these attacks will continue, because they work. As you advertise here.

Melissa Clouthier said...


I think you're asking to undo thousands of years of biological reality. Men are not judged as harshly for being overweight. In fact, skinny guys are often maligned while guys with a few extra pounds can look "handsome".

You do have a point about a woman taking all this on, whereas a man doesn't. that bears on on the blogosphere. Many women have bailed because of the ruthless attacks on their person. This is unfortunate and keeps the power in the hands of assholes.

Anonymous said...

"Go onto any blog and you don't see a man disparaged for his weight or face." You mean, like Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Michael Moore? Fat jokes about these guys are de rigeur on blogs.

Anonymous said...

What are beauty pageants about anyway?


Paul said...

Sorry, but this woman is faaat. Look here for a more revealing photo and tell me it has anything to do with double standards for men and women:

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Chalmers here. In Europe they think it is ridiculous
that American's work the kind of hours they work.

Wayne said...

Anon 8:01AM - The biggest problem for the women is that, even if they are relatively average-looking, they are called fat, ugly cows, skanky whores, and more. It's not limited to bloggers. Many times, you see celebrities called fat when they are no such thing.

For men, as Melissa said, the standard is much more forgiving. Although John Hawkins does get some flack for his size, but nothing like he would if he were female.

TigerHawk said...

I dunno. I mocked Al Gore for being fat just the other day! Think of his carbon footprint.

I think the difference between obesity and other traits is that obesity is regarded, generally, as the product of choice. Same reason why "gluttony" is one of the famous seven deadly sins. Now, modern ideas about addiction and free will have encroached on the boundaries of "choice," but most people believe that most people who are genuinely fat are so because of the choices that they make. I know I believe that when I weigh 210 just as I do when I weigh 185. And believe me, one is fatter than the other. We're not talking tons of muscle here.

I do not think that the "long hours of work" explanation holds any water at all. In fact, I suspect that you will find in today's economy that obesity is inversely related to hours of work, just as it is inversely related to personal income. Calories are virtually free. Obesity is a problem of the poor, particularly the stay-at-home poor.

The bigger driver is lifestyle. Whatever their other pluses and minuses, Manhattanites are not fat -- they are thin like the French, not fat like the Germans. Why? No cars! If you walk or even just stand most of the time, you are going to be a lot thinner than if you get into your car to drive 400 yards to the deli, as most of our employees our here in the 'burbs do.

Melissa Clouthier said...


You're right about lifestyle being the driver, but what do you think of the research that says that even fat people when they diet only lose 10% of their body fat. And, that fat people, when studied consume the same amount of calories as skinny people.

That makes it seem like it's not a choice so much as genetics or, like the recent theory, a virus.

TigerHawk said...

It seems clear that different people have different propensities to get fat, and different capacities for controlling their impulses, and that those differences must be at least partly genetic. I suppose another part must derive from "environmental factors" in childhood, which are also to some great degree "immutable". But... It is also clear that there are huge behavioral considerations at play, and I would argue that they dominate. There are virtually no fat people in Princeton, for example. If I look around the room at "back to school night" at the Princeton Charter School, there are very few people who are more than a few pounds over weight, and nobody who is morbidly obese. We're talking about a room full of people between the ages of 35 - 55. So where's the obesity problem? Just a few miles away at the Quakerbridge Mall between West Windsor and Trenton. The differences are unbelievable.

Stephen said...

I have always found it interesting that it seems women are judgmental in this way toward other women. It is not just men that are evaluating women harshly based on their physical appearance. I have seen women look with distaste on another women who had her hair, boobs or clothes too short, wild or showy while she was walking arm in arm with a fat and unkempt man. I think too that being obese, not just slightly outside ideal weight, in many peoples minds is a indicator of laziness which it may or may not be

Anonymous said...

Here's the deal. Leave your startlingly bright intellect out of it. Men want women who are 'beautiful.' That means larg(er) breasts and the hour-glass figure, nice hips, cute butt, flat stomach, etc. because they are more likely to be able to produce healthy off-spring. Women want men who are wealthy and powerful enough to care for and protect the family. Look in ANY personnels section. "Wanted, man, financially secure, blah blah." "Wanted: HWP female." It's the selfish gene at work. Get over it.

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