Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bittman, Zola, and the "myths" of slimness (3 unrelated items)

-After Anne Hathaway, I was sure it would be downhill for some time as far as celebrity sightings are concerned. But no! On our way to dinner, Jo and I spotted none other than Mark Bittman, near NYU, which was super exciting. I was starstruck, as Jo can attest, all the way to the falafel place, where everything we ate was vegan, and after 6PM, at that. Bittman would have been so proud. (Granted everything I ate - eggplant, falafel - was fried and drenched in tehina, but to my knowledge, no cows were harmed.)

-In what counts as a busman's study-break if there ever was one: "Au Bonheur des Dames", a movie based on the Zola novel of the same name. It felt so wrong going out on a school night, during finals at that, but this seemed too good to miss. Still, much as I love the book from which the movie was "inspiré", I think to enjoy silent films, you have to be a more sophisticated person than my Apatow-appreciating self, or to live at a time when Apatow was not an option. But the movie must have made some impression, because I woke up to quite the anxiety dream about a paper I'd just turned in (in awake-life) on a different but related Zola novel.

-Today is catch-up-on-email-and-practical-things day, so, though tempted, I will refrain from a full-on take-down of "6 myths about slim people", brought to me by an angry commenter to my post about the utter nonsense that is the expression "naturally thin." (Unsurprisingly, those who take pride in identifying as "naturally thin" are not pleased.)

My favorite of the slimness "myths": "Life is easier for thin people." Will someone explain to me in what way, shape, or form that's a myth, and not merely a blunt way of pointing out that the overweight are discriminated against in our society? And the author of the article really couldn't come up with a better example of someone who's "genetically thin" than a friend of hers who's an "exercise enthusiast"? Really? But whatever. At least some people understood what that post was getting at, and I appreciate it.


Matt said...

I'm sort of disappointed by this post, but only because I'd mis-read the title as "myths about sliminess". That would have been much more interesting. "People think sliminess is gross, but they're wrong, it's great!" and things like that. That actual slimness myths are pretty dumb, especially since "slim" there seems to mean "really, really, skinny."

At least the silent movie was an appropriate length for one. I find that, while I like them okay, I can't take them for much more than 90 minutes. The last one I watched, Eisenstein's October, was about two hours, and I must say that I was desperate for the Bosheviks to storm the winter palace already. (It's perhaps a semi-silent film- there's a score, but also sound effects added in some parts, though all the "dialog" is words on the screen.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Yes, sliminess would have been more interesting. It could have addressed what happens if you go to the grocery store and, when you get home, forget to take the cucumbers out of the bag, only to find them a week later. (One of the most important things I learned during college.)

The slimness myths are dumb, I think, because they are asking us to think of the thin as just as oppressed a group in society as the overweight. Yes, obviously a thin person can be otherwise unattractive and have an otherwise miserable life. But all things equal, life is easier for the thin. The furious commenters there seem mainly annoyed that overweight people are jealous of them, or that people find it appropriate to comment on women's bodies, period (a valid complaint, although again, these remarks disproportionately offend the overweight), but do not appear to object to the fact that their own (allegedly) naturally-come-by physiques give them power in society.

Dana said...

Ha, I read it as "sliminess" as well. I was going to ask you what it means when bacon becomes slimy. I throw it out, but I still don't know why it becomes slimy in the first place.

Being an unnaturally slim person with a history of non-slimness and mildly disordered eating (long past, but still), I find this whole kerfuffle perplexing. Then, as I further consider what is/isn't natural about anything about me, it seems that everything is unnatural: I work hard to stay mentally sharp, I work hard to be intellectually cultivated and politically aware, I work hard to have the proper amount of nutrients in my body (the preparation of food is no small task). And then I look beyond my corporeal self and find that everything about my psychological self is socially constructed. So really, it all goes back to sociology of culture. There's no such thing as natural.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap. Are you serious with this? "Life is easier for thin people." You must be a life long dieter. I'm been thin my whole life. Grossly thin as a kid and just normal thin now. I eat just fine. My husband left me and our two tiny children for a much heavier girl who didn't need to talk about mortgages, schooling, dishes and was willing to give him bj's at a moment's notice. My life is far from easy. Grow up.

Anonymous said...

Politically correct or not, we also discriminate against smokers, drug abusers and alcoholics. It's unhealthy and in most cases begins with a choice. Added weight is not something to be welcomed and embraced.

PG said...

Anonymous, are you not familiar with the phrase "all things equal"?

The slimness myths are dumb, I think, because they are asking us to think of the thin as just as oppressed a group in society as the overweight.No, I don't think that's it. Rather, they're trying to make people aware that what is fairly commonly understood to be rude toward overweight people also is rude to underweight people. I have to admit that until I had an extremely thin friend in college (and yes, of the "naturally" thin type, if by naturally you mean it was related to a genetic condition and her mother was the same until she got pregnant), I didn't know anyone so thin she really didn't need to exercise at all or watch her diet to stay that way.

Maybe I was just raised very poorly, but when I first encountered this friend I would say stupid and insensitive things sometimes (often with the misguided belief that I was being sort of complimentary, because hey, what's better in a thin-seeking culture than being told that you're really really thin?). I'd comment on her size zero clothes, tease her that she should eat more, etc. I didn't like my body so I assumed someone who had the exact opposite must love hers. (Nope, in our culture everyone gets to hate her body!)

My husband also was considered "too" skinny for most of his life (he's only recently felt comfortable feeling pinstripes), and even having gotten older and understood that Skinny People Have Feelings Too, I still was surprised when he told me about disliking how quickly his arms and legs were growing and how thin he was when he was a kid. Again, I have always been short and disliked being short, so the idea that tall men -- who don't have the "I was the tallest student at the 8th grade dance and no boy would dance with me" issue -- could dislike being tall was kind of bizarre.

You can have it easier than the short and fat generally do, and still have your own problems related directly to your size.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"There's no such thing as natural."

Yep, that was what I was getting at.

Anonymous 1,

It sounds like you've been through a rough time, and I appreciate that. But individual cases of men leaving a thin woman for a heavy one do not change the fact that our society on the whole prefers thin women to fat. (It also prefers young to old, and depending the man and the situation, one can cancel the other out.) The "grow up" was uncalled for.

"You must be a life long dieter."

No, not so much. I'm small but not runway-model-proportioned, and eat what I've been told is a normal amount, if too much at dinner and too little at lunch, whatever that means.

Anonymous 2,

"Added weight is not something to be welcomed and embraced."

By discrimination against the overweight, I don't mean when purchasing life insurance. I mean that it is easier to find clothes, a partner, and sometimes even a job for someone thin than someone fat. And although any preventable cause of illness or death is something to be, well, addressed, it's not as though the overweight are, as such, emitting second-hand fat, supporting gang violence, or crashing cars.


I agree that it's a bad idea to comment on anyone's size, fat or thin, fat because, well, it's rude to call people fat, and thin because you never know who's that way because they want to look fabulous and who has a medical condition. But really it's a bad idea generally because, unless you're going to be sleeping with someone, their looks beyond basic presentability are irrelevant, and weight's a sensitive issue. And I suppose that's part of what the "myths" piece was getting at, but the main takeaway seemed to be that it's just as tough for otherwise healthy people to be thin as to be fat, which is generally not the case.

In terms of women. Men are another story, because there is such a thing as 'too thin' for men, according to their own understandings of conventional standards of attractiveness, falling well before levels indicative of illness. I've certainly known men who were self-conscious about being too thin, and have also known women of similar proportions who thought they could stand to lose a few pounds.