Friday, December 20, 2013

"That’s not at all chic."

My recent Bloggingheads with Autumn got me in a beauty-bloggy frame of mind, so here goes!

Can women's magazines (broadly defined to include the online-only ones) move beyond diet advice? One complaint I've long had about these publications, including ones I like, such as Refinery29, is that they offer up "health" advice when it's clear between the lines, they're just telling you how to lose weight. Which is an unpleasant distraction if you're reading these publications for the shiny-things coverage. Well! Refinery29 has taken a first step in the right direction, with Kelsey Miller's "The Anti-Diet Project." Miller is, as she herself notes, not thin. Yet there she is in a fashion publication, announcing that she's not going to beat herself up over that. Progress!

Granted, I'm not entirely convinced that "intuitive eating" is possible. Can a lifetime of weight-think be so readily abandoned? What about those who, if they listened to their bodies, would subsist on pasta with olive oil and grated parmesan, croissants and, for variety, chocolate croissants? Yes, it's unnatural that, over the years, I've trained myself to feel off if a day goes by without any green vegetables, but this is artifice I can live with (assuming sufficient olive oil, etc., has coated those greens, and that pasta and cheese are also often involved.) And the number of times I've seen 'this is not a diet but a lifestyle' as the preface to some advice about how to eat less so as to fit into smaller jeans' makes me skeptical as well. But it's something. More power to them for publishing a series that's about the challenges of isolating health concerns from physique ones.


Via that same site, Marisa Meltzer has an interesting essay in Elle about trying to reconcile dieting and being a feminist. I loved this passage:

But there’s also a strain of ambivalence that’s more nebulous and apolitical: the notion that evolved girls simply don’t need to diet. The modern woman, after all, is that highly capable, have-it-all creature to whom career success, confidence, and effortless style—and, oh yeah, the yoga body and the eco-conscious, preservative-free diet—come naturally. She’s too damn smart and balanced to overeat in the first place. If anything, she’s already healthy and getting ever healthier. So juice fasts and Goop cleanses and barre classes? All fine as part of a vague “healthy lifestyle” of “clean eating.” Losing weight for your wedding day? Okay, you get a free pass on that one. But the daily slog of dieting—all that calorie counting and dessert skipping and 
cardio bingeing? That’s not at all chic.
So spot-on.

My impression, though, is that one is treated as a feminist traitor not so much for dieting if actually very overweight, and more for doing that thing so many already-thin women do, where the goal is to be thinner still, or to preempt any possibility - however remote - of gaining a significant amount of weight. Yes, there's the fat-acceptance movement, and the BMI-is-nonsense perma-conversation. But my impression is that when feminist women are, for example, told by their doctors that they'd be healthier if they lost weight, these women's feminist friends are supportive. (I really can't imagine a thin woman chastising a heavy one in this way.) This no doubt varies by friend group, and requisite caveat, I've never been in Meltzer's own situation, but this has, at any rate, been my impression over the years.

The weirdness seems more pronounced among the women who don't plausibly need to lose weight by any standard (health, social stigma, fitting into readily-available clothes, etc.). My sense is, it used to be very much the thing for already-thin women (certainly already-thin Manhattan middle-schoolers circa 1995, from which we can infer about the mothers) to bond over diets, but now, as Meltzer says, it's "not at all chic." Part of it is the cult of effortlessness. But it's also, I suspect, the greater awareness of eating disorders. While there isn't generally an eating disorder involved when a woman who'd be a size six artificially keeps herself a size four, there's this sense that confessing to doing such a thing would invite friends to intervene and suggest she get help. Which, in turn, leads to all the evasive discussions about "health," where everyone kind of knows it's about weight, but would be aghast if that were brought up explicitly.

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