Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Other writers

Other writers live in New York. If you, too, live in New York, then other writers live in a specific Brooklyn neighborhood. If you live in that neighborhood, then other writers live in Manhattan, in townhouses or Classic Sixes they were handed upon reaching majority.

Other writers are three years younger than you are.

Other writers have held beautiful-person jobs, which they write about more eloquently than you ever could.

Other writers got there by connections.

Other writers had the gall to not get there by connections.

Other writers are raising five kids which actually makes them better at managing their time, would you believe it.

Other writers are friends with other other writers and make this known on Other Writer Instagram.

Other writers have secret family money.

Other writers definitely don't have secret office jobs.

Other writers are sent Glossier products for free.

Other writers' eyebrows don't even need those products.

"As if it were nothing"

I knew Taffy Brodesser-Akner's feature on the status of the diet industry in an ostensibly post-diet culture would be brilliant before I started reading it, given author and angle alike, and yes, it sure was. Diets are passé, but eating less to lose weight is not. If you'd ever wondered about how that's supposed to work (I had! I had wondered this!), you need to get to it.

It's a deeply reported piece, as well as a personal one. Brodesser-Akner leads with the reported, not the autobiographical, but it's hard to picture a story working at the level it does if it were written by a journalist, however talented, who lacked personal experience in that area. The personal angle comes through most clearly in the conclusion:
A skinny woman was eating a cupcake and talking on her phone, tonguing the icing as if she were on ecstasy. Another skinny woman drank a regular Dr Pepper as if it were nothing, as if it were just a drink. I continued walking and stopped in front of a diner and watched through the window people eating cheeseburgers and French fries and talking gigantically. All these people, I looked at them as if they were speaking Mandarin or discussing string theory, with their ease around their food and their ease around their bodies and their ability to live their lives without the doubt and self-loathing that brings me to my arthritic knees still.
I've read through a handful of the piece's nearly a thousand comments, which was enough to see I was not the only reader to wonder about the "ease" Brodesser-Akner says she witnessed. It seems possible, I think, both to respect her response to seeing thin women eating non-diet foods, and to question whether "as if it were nothing" is an approach to food our society ever really allows women, of any size. Which is something she argues, or at least suggests, elsewhere in the piece, when she writes, "A woman’s body isn’t neutral. A woman’s body is everyone’s business but her own."

What that conclusion describes might be called thin privilege - that is, the blithe indifference of the thin to the struggles of those for whom every bite is fraught. But is thin privilege, in that understanding, something all or even most thin women have ever experienced firsthand? Is it the typical experience of slimness?

Let me be clear: In a society that stigmatizes being fat, it's advantageous not to be fat. In one that valorizes thinness, it helps still more to be thin. If you're someone who has never had to wonder if you'd fit in an airplane seat, or if the store has a large enough size, if a doctor has never suggested you lose weight, you probably can't get what such experiences are like, and may have never even considered them. If I were privilege-categories dictionary dictator, that would be Thin Privilege.

But how many thin people - how many women especially - experience "ease around their food and... their bodies"? Is that thin privilege? Once you include people who were once fat but are currently thin due to tremendous effort, and once you add to those the ones who'd be not-fat regardless but remain thinner still due to (yup) tremendous effort, you're talking about a whole lot of... effort. (See Alana Massey's excellent essay on this phenomenon.) Some of that effort crosses the line into diagnosable eating disorder territory. That which does not will nevertheless often take up huge amounts of time and mental energy that could be going absolutely anywhere else. Throw into the mix women whose thinness is the result of stress or illness - here, see Maris Kreizman's - and you've got quite a lot of women who absolutely reap the unfair advantages of thinness, but maybe don't experience thinness as "ease."

I point all this out not to say that well actually, thin women have it worse, or even as bad. Certainly not. Rather, it's that because these two things - societal weight obsession and sexism - are intertwined the way they are, they're that much more difficult to dismantle. In theory, "wellness" and so forth might have proven a great equalizer, reminding that you can be living well, or not, at any size. As Brodesser-Akner's piece makes painfully clear, it's done nothing of the kind.

Dieting has long been the default (not universal, but yes, default) state of women's food consumption, as well as an activity engaged in by women and men who - because society has deemed them fat - are trying to lose weight. The concept of "clean eating" manages to somehow merge existing fatphobia with a purity requirement extending to all women. It's not a chipping away at thin privilege. It's the worst of both worlds.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Assorted thoughts because it's pouring outside

-When men wait in line once a week to see which new clothes a store has in stock, it's not about stuff. It's an experience. (Is Ruth La Ferla tongue-in-cheek here? Her sources, at any rate, don't seem to be.)

-Working from home may be associated with coffee shops but the afternoon coffee is almost inevitably leftover coffee from the morning carafe, over ice.

-Another budget tip (forgive me but I was, until three days ago, paying rent in two cities): Lululemon Run Club. What it is is, you go to one of the stores at a designated time and have... well, what you have is track team practice, minus the track meets. The fee is the same as for high school track practice (assuming a public school): free. No, you do not need to wear Lululemon to participate, although I have done so, both because that's the make of my non-disintegrated shorts and because it somehow feels like a nice gesture. If you need a kick to go running - which, in Toronto at least, with its absence of obvious running paths, I do - it's just the thing.

-There is a Lena Dunham controversy. Probably another since I started typing this.

-There is also curvy wife guy. Basically a man who's some sort of Inspirational Influencer Ted-talk-giving beacon of Positivity posted to Instagram that he's always liked shorter, curvier women than are on the covers of magazines (i.e. the vaaaaaast majority of women; dude has always liked women) and is Not Ashamed to admit that he loves his short, curvy, cellulite-having wife. (He mentions her butt cellulite in the post.) It went viral - if I'm getting the timing right - first with encouraging responses (his wife is among the post's vocal supporters), then with variations on WTF.

I'm embarrassed to admit I find this story incredibly compelling. Why? Is it because at a formative age, the "neg" was a big topic? Because of how similar dude's line is to the thing where men (Jewish or not) admit to actually liking Jewish women? Because it's yet another fine example of body positivity being a conventionally attractive young woman in tight clothes? Because it's a window into a whole non-poodle use of Instagram I find hard to comprehend at the best of times? Because it's hilarious to think of equivalently not-actually-flattering things a woman could say about a male partner's physique? Because dude seems to have confused body positivity (which is about how people, girls and women especially, see themselves) with his own coming to terms with liking a body type that is... what women tend to look like, give or take? Is it - as Sarah Ditum suggests - the "low expectations" angle, that is, how he wants to be congratulated for... loving his wife?

What I keep coming back to is, it's that he presents himself as someone who could have married a supermodel, but only after reckoning with his unusual preferences and becoming A Feminist was he willing to pursue his dream of partnering with a merely attractive woman. That's the premise of the post - that not-a-supermodel was a choice he made, as versus the reality for nearly all humans. That, or his premise is that all men could be partnered with supermodels (something an unfortunate number of men perhaps do believe). Either way, it's a heck of a starting point.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Supermodel vs. Schlub

Recently the following Twitter exchange made the rounds, with a comeback that has won praise from at least two people I follow: Chrissy Teigen - model, actress, social media personality (nearly seven million Twitter followers), wife of John Legend (marital status relevant to the tweet at hand) - tweeted, "I have a best selling book, great boobs, a family I love, am literally eating pasta on a lake in Italy and I married rich." This (since-deleted) tweet was not gratuitous self-congratulation. Rather, it was in response to another tweet, from a now-locked (but one might infer, Trump-friendly) account with 314 followers, suggesting that getting blocked by Trump on Twitter was the high point of Teigen's otherwise pathetic life. Her point? Yeah, not so much.

One response to the episode is that Teigen sure told dude. Another: this was a punch down. Supermodel vs. Schlub. Presumably the fact that dude's account went from public to private in the course of my writing this blog post has something to do with him being inundated with negative attention from Teigen's numerous supporters. Teigen had been personally insulted, but only one of these two people was in a position to instigate a Twitter pile-on against the other.

There's a third possibility, which I'm getting to...

Versions of this dynamic, involving people with platforms but not Teigen-level celebrity, play out on Twitter all the time. Someone behind an account with relatively few followers (or - as in a case I'm thinking of, just one follower) will say something fairly garbage, directing their women-should-serve-men, their all-lives-matter, at someone with a large platform, who is also personally (as in, identity-categories-wise) impacted by the issues at hand. It won't be report-worthy abuse, but it will be on the cusp. The speaker will be, individually, quite powerless, but will be speaking in defense of the powerful.

What are the options of the marginalized-but-platform-having party? Should they just take it silently, missing an opportunity to show what oppression looks like in action? (That was certainly my response to a wave of Twitter harassment I received, just before it became the thing to RT one's harassing mentions.) Retweet but with a screenshot? Obscure the account name? Quote-tweet and mock the idea but not the person? Quote-tweet with a 'look at this idiot'-type message? How responsible, if at all, should they feel for subsequent harassment the last of those might inspire?

And what's the threshold, once we're talking not about real influence but just... disparate follower counts? I had few qualms reacting to tweets from a dude (I think?) who thought he'd dug up something really nefarious when he went to the Wikipedia page for the Israeli flag and learned it had ~Zionist~ origins. As if this was some sort of discovery. My aim, in sharing the tweet (which had already been RT'd - favorably, I would guess from the context - by SlutWalk Chicago, which was how I'd found it in the first place) was to point out the abysmal level at which a conversation supposedly about "Zionism" was taking place, with craptastic consequences for Jews, regardless of position on Israel. Does it matter that flag dude and I have follower counts in the same general range, and are neither of us even Twitter-famous?

Or was I, in calling out bigotry-tinged stupidity on Twitter, part of the problem of how one just can't say anything these days, and therefore the Reason Trump Won TM? I felt a twinge of guilt for sharing it. Guilty, that is, not because I doubted the importance or correctness of calling out that (consequential) foolishness. Guilty for taking pleasure, even a little bit, in doing so.

If we take a step back and return to what the Teigen-and-troll back-and-forth was actually about, we see that the president is blocking people on Twitter. The same president who uses his Twitter account to do things like announce a ban on transgender people in the military. If Teigen chooses to use her platform to draw attention to the absurdity and general disastrousness of the Trump presidency, isn't that... good?

The third option, then, involves - sorry, this is not very exciting - taking things case-by-case. A norm that says it's always bad and inherently harassing to publicly tell someone they've said something offensive, if you have more of a platform than they do, effectively eliminates social media's capacity for righting wrongs. It is a good thing about Twitter, say, that there are people from marginalized groups with power on there (sometimes elsewhere, too!), who are able to expose and push back against all manner of horribleness. Meanwhile a norm that every misstep needs to be called out by everyone who sees it, however tangentially involved, just leads to the kind of awful Twitter pile-ons where self-proclaimed allies battle it out with one another, ostensibly On Behalf Of, and they may each and every one of them mean well, but ultimately for their own entertainment/posturing.

Put another way: blanket rejection of call-outs - when it extends to people who a) are actually impacted, and/or b) were personally insulted and are replying to the person who personally and publicly insulted them - is purity politics in its own right.