Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Eternal youth

-For a change, a Parisian woman complains about how skinny women are in New York. And, alas, makes about as much sense as anyone could who begins a post by musing, "Have you ever had lunch with a New Yorker? Really, it’s not far from an episode of Sex and the City." To be fair, she means New Yorkers working in the fashion industry. Maybe she's right? Anyway, someone needs to tell her that portions are not huge in NY. Certainly not in fashion-y Manhattan spots she no doubt goes to, and that she's now blaming for weight gain that (prepare to shed a tear) has prevented her from fitting into her skinny jeans. Thing is, Europeans have been told for their entire lives that in America, the portions are immense, so when they come to Soho and get a plate with one local-sustainable arugula sprout curled up at the center, and that's it, they react by announcing that they've been forced to down a plate of chili fries by the Great American Conspiracy. Cold, hard evidence in the form of portions that would not sustain an especially inactive elderly socialite is nothing in the face of what Europeans just know.

But it's so much fun to blame weight gain on 'merica! Mireille Giuliano built a second career on that concept. Maybe it's the bagels! Or maybe a dumbed-down version of Michael Pollan - Mark Bittman will suffice?

So maybe this isn’t something I can speak abut as I don’t know anything about that, but one thing’s for sure, the laws are totally different about things like what growth hormones you can feed beef and chicken to make them grow faster. I don’t know how all this affects our weight, but I don’t see how it could help but get into the milk, eggs and meat. It’s crazy. I was talking with Emily, my Australian friend who just got here to NYC and she also gained 10 pounds just like that (It’s known as the little house warming gift in NYC – Hello! Welcome! Here’s 10 pounds!). Plus here, not only did were we getting fatter – the fat seemed softer. Yeurk.
Yeah, totally! Doré must've put on a few not because metabolisms slow down as we age, but from all these weird chemicals in American food, specifically engineered to make otherwise flawless foreign women fat. Remember Edina Monsoon in "Fat," the AbFab episode in which she insists that her heft is "much more likely to be an allergy to something. A build-up of toxins or a hormone imbalance" than the result of her overeating and lack of exercise? I guess the fashion-person way is to find some absurd yet so-very-now reason for looking sub-optimal in a pair of tight jeans. Man, I wish Edina were real, and had a blog.

-Dorm life is all too fresh in my mind. The one I lived in most recently in Paris was no-frills to say the least. That the (shared) bathroom was ostensibly cleaned a few times a week didn't mean there wasn't that smeared on the walls, or that running water would come forth from the bathroom sink. The communal showers were not for those with an aversion to mold. The walls between the rooms were made out of tissue-paper or something, such that when my neighbor came by to complain that he could hear me talking at 5 in the evening on a Sunday, he kind of had a point. All told, this was maybe not the best situation to move into at 27, but it allowed me to get a lot of research done in Paris, and perhaps the stress of that living situation helped close friendships form among many of us.

The stress of proximity and a standard of living well below that which most have prior to and following their university experiences is, however, zilch compared with that of sharing a bedroom - as in, one room, one door - with a stranger, something rather different also, it should be noted, from what most post-college roommate situations look like. We hear alllll the time about the fancy and schmancy amenities offered to today's spoiled undergrad, yet as soon as this discussion arises, it's always all about how there simply isn't the room-aka-money to give every entering student a tiny cell of his own. This is no doubt more true of some schools than others (plenty of UChicago dorms I can think of could be subdivided for privacy), but the reason the two-per-room set-up persists is that we-as-a-society think it's at worst an acceptable way to save space, at best a fundamental part of the college experience. It shouldn't be - it's too much to ask kids to spend their first year of college being some unenlightened roommate's 24/7 "learning experience." This is not your first time hearing it here, but Flavia has a great post on the matter, so I'm sending you her way.

-I've been de-ombréd, in the form of a haircut. Apparently bleaching the ends of my hair twice, then putting a pink dye over that, then attempting various methods (dandruff shampoo, dish soap, more bleach) to get it out brought the ends to a state for which no conditioner was deep enough. The past few days, and even on my way to the salon, I saw all these girls (nah, not so many women) with ombré perfection, and did feel some regret. But I now look much more professional, which is important for editing down an article attempt at home in my pajamas.


Britta said...

Actually, what annoyed me the most was blaming hormones for her weight gain. I agree that factory farming in the US is really awful, but plenty of people are aware of that and make an effort to only consume hormone free milk/eggs/meat, including, my guess is, the restaurants she frequents in NY. She would have to be willfully blind to miss all the locavore/organic stuff sweeping UMC/UC America right now.

It also kind of reminds me of some Chinese-American friends I had in college, who I swear, for every meal ate either fried chicken strips, waffle fries, and corn, or waffles with ice cream and then complained about how "American food" made them fat, not like the Chinese food they ate at home.

Phoebe said...

From an ethical standpoint, it perhaps does make sense to avoid factory-farmed meat even for occasional consumption. And yes, if you're eating anywhere remotely yuppie, you're eating food that's been certified like crazy. (Sort of like how every nail polish now declares itself free of the same chemicals, leading one to wonder if any still do contain said chemicals.) But in terms of it doing screwy things to one's body? Do we really think that in the quantity a weight-conscious fashion writer is likely consuming meat/dairy, with or without hormones would make a drop of difference? That's why I think your analogy makes sense - it's easier to blame American cuisine than one's own refusal to see that there are options beyond waffles and fries. (Of course, as an American married to a Belgian, I'm all in favor of waffles and fries, but maybe as breakfast and a small side dish, respectively.)

Britta said...

Oh, reading some of the comments, I like how people from places where the food is (so I've heard) legitimately much worse than the US (England, Russia) chiming in as well, about how, when they eat "healthy, normal" food at home, they stay effortlessly thin, but 2 minutes in NY or LA makes them fat. I just want to be like, "yeah, England, the country that invented the french fry sandwich" the epitome of healthy food. (I had a British roommate who wouldn't eat American peas because he claimed they were "too green.")

I don't really know about NY or Paris skinny, but at least in Beijing there is affirmative action for foreigners when it comes to being skinny. Despite being relatively less skinny in Beijing than in Chicago, Chinese people everywhere are bowled over by how "thin" I am. If I were Chinese though, I'd probably be told to lose a few. I think it's the fact that I am a Westerner but not morbidly obese that throws people off. It's one of those things that's both simultaneously flattering and insulting about living in China, kind of like people being perpetually amazed that I can, after a mere, oh, 8 years of study, speak Mandarin.

Phoebe said...


True enough - there's a big part of Europe that's very meat-and-potatoes, cuisine-wise, but that somehow gets conflated in the popular imagination with Paris and Milan, because, Europe. That cuisine, too, then comes to be held to have magic powers, because at least it's traditional/homemade/European. When in fact, even without high-fructose corn syrup, enough fries, chocolates, and sausages will do the trick.

"I think it's the fact that I am a Westerner but not morbidly obese that throws people off."

Huh. Something like this is true in Paris, where being small (especially if "small" also includes short) makes it easier to blend in, or at least not to announce by your very presence your nation of origin. But there's also the phenomenon of Americans insisting that everyone they see abroad is so, so skinny, when in fact, if you're coming from NY or LA, depending where you go in Europe, people may be a whole lot larger.

Britta said...

Exactly! Europeans are not all the same size! I always want to write my best selling cookbook, "Why Swedish women don't get fat" except Americans would probably not get the irony that, while there are fewer Swedish people who need a crane to leave their houses, on the whole few Swedish women are super skinny, either thin or of tiny build, and plenty of Scandinavian women would be considered "fat."

Phoebe said...

Indeed. But it goes beyond Europe, even. Doré's comment about an Australian woman saying NYC made her fat took this to a new level. Really? That's why there almost seemed to be hope in her post - finally, someone acknowledging that America isn't a monolith! But apparently even fashion-y dining in NY, insofar as it's still within the U.S., causes the immediate gaining of 10 lbs.

Phoebe said...

Also! What's annoying, if less in the post itself than in what it implies, what commenters get from it, and putting it together with things Doré has said elsewhere, is the idea that it's perfectly reasonable to a) celebrate smoking 12 cigarettes with lunch, and b) get all worked-up about the health consequences of trace amounts of whatever in your food. While it's not my own approach, I get where people are coming from who say they want to get the most pleasure out of life (often by embracing some preconceived idea of what it is to be French/European), even if that means risking consequences later. And women whose #1 priority is being skinny... I'd categorize them alongside ex-gays, as in, seems idiotic and sets a bad example but you can't tell others what will make them happy. But Doré likes to claim she's concerned with health being promoted by the fashion industry. It's like she has to be on all trendy bandwagons simultaneously - skinny jeans come first! no, of-the-moment health panics! Meh.