Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tales from unreal America

-Things were looking grim on the vegetable front, so I decided to retry kale - that is, to try a different variety of it, via this recipe, versions of which I've seen all over the place, the idea being I'd enjoy any food covered in olive oil, lemon juice, and ricotta salata. It was most excellent, but the Epicurious reader's advice, "Use with bounty from a friend's garden," didn't apply - the stuff's from California, because god knows where anyone in NYC is getting even winter vegetables grown locally. A recent trip to the nearby farmers' market revealed only one plant-item - apples - and no vegetables whatsoever. (Although Whole Foods now has decent, if pricey, tomatoes "from Maine." Greenhouse? Lies, vicious lies, and they're really from New Zealand? One of life's great mysteries.)

-The thrift store around the corner from where I teach has intrigued me for quite some time, and today I finally peeked inside. It is officially the most expensive place to ever go by the moniker 'thrift shop' (not 'consignment', 'vintage', etc.), but it all goes to charity, it seems, so you shouldn't feel bad paying $15 for a used H&M shirt is the idea. Housing Works, I remain your loyal cheapskate.

-So I'm going to pick up where Amber left off. I realized even as I wrote the post on the frump-skank question that it might seem ridiculous to hold forth, as I did, on the plight of curvy-but-not-overweight women, and was sort of surprised neither of our threads took a call-the-waambulance turn. But to preempt such a turn they might take, the point is not to raise awareness of a great human tragedy, but to note that it's surprising that women whose builds are conventionally-enviable are shunned by the fashion industry. Whereas it's unfortunate (and perhaps a bad business decision) but not surprising when fashion excludes the obese.

What concerns me here is what it means that fashion excludes this unexpected group. Is it maybe a good thing? If Fashion is attainable only to the finest-featured of emaciated Slavic adolescents, and then only once they've been airbrushed, we're all equal in our inability to resemble Those Images, and we can all share a mix of ridicule and admiration, without taking any of it personally. Do the thin-with-boobs types really need more approbation?

On the other hand, if you look at why even the thin-with-boobs can't find flattering clothes, there's really no non-depressing answer. Either it's all a misogynistic plot to define as beauty that which lacks a specific femininity, or (and this is where my money goes) it's all about inducing self-hatred in the most women possible, defining as many traits as possible as flaws. How this works as a business model somewhat eludes me - wouldn't slim-yet-curvaceous narcissists buy more clothes than skinny women obsessed with perfectly normal bits of bulge? It seems to me that the diet industry has something to gain with this strategy, but fashion? Not seeing it.

An attempt at a practical solution: We need to stop thinking of curves as that which should be dealt with with utmost discretion, but at the same time we need to think creatively about ways to showcase the female form that are at once less revealing and more original than the push-up-bra and deep-v-neck combo. One approach is to have a sense of humor about one's shape: Rather than wistfully admitting that women, alas, often have these things called 'breasts,' and choosing a dress shirt with darts, why not a boob bow or a bra shirt? Both images here are totally SFW, and offer a glimpse at how, outside the unfortunately hard-to-imitate-at-work realm of pop-art performance, women can sport non-skank yet pro-curve attire. (Would I teach in the bra shirt? No. But in the bow outfit, why not?) Rather than avoiding pantaloons or harem pants for their hip-widening properties, why not pouf those hips out, ala bustles, for emphasis? This can even have the paradoxical effect of making whatever it is that's been absurdly poufed-out look smaller.


Withywindle said...

You left out the John Derbyshire answer: men like women who like 15-year-olds, since they have a longer expected fertility ahead of them. They like blondes because fair complexion tends to hide aging relatively badly, and you can tell the 15 year olds from the 20 year olds. Hence anorexic Latvians will always be at a premium.

Not to endorse; merely to mention.

Phoebe said...


"Hence anorexic Latvians will always be at a premium."

Which would be the non-PC-but-hey-just-telling-it-like-it-is answer if beauty standards had always been thus, but not quite. I doubt if the belle Juive had this look, or the ruddy milkmaid, or...

I was thinking more along the lines of the discussion I remember you contributed to in a post I now can't locate here, about large breasts being seen as trashy. This would explain why very curvy women have trouble pulling off 'chic' according to today's fashion standards, and perhaps across culture to some extent as well. But it doesn't quite get to why anything in the bosom department disqualifies a woman from wearing anything that is Fashion in the way it was intended.

Withywindle said...

I suspect there are well-dressed, buxom matrons out there, in the moneyed classes. The oddity is that Fashion no longer bothers to imitate them. As to why: gosh, beats me. I keep on reading your blog in hopes you'll figure out an answer.

PG said...

If the tomatoes are from Backyard Farms, they're greenhouse and really from Maine. I think they're environmentally better than something from California, since even in California it's probably too cold to grow non-greenhouse tomatoes right now.

Phoebe said...


I wasn't talking about matrons. Derbyshire may be right that 15's about where beauty seems set, but 5'11" and emaciated? These are particular to our times.


That is indeed the first Google result for "Maine" and "tomatoes," so why not?