Sunday, October 28, 2012

"And I was like, ‘No, no, no—it’s for my skin.’"

There is something kinda bleak about a profile of an immensely successful, impressive, talented young woman that tells us not how she got where she is today, but what she eats. Not because it's superficial - I'm happy to hear about clothes-and-shoes, makeup routines, skin-smoothing snake-oils of choice. "Into The Gloss," when it sticks to the usual (fashion-industry women talking about which beauty products they use, and making gaffes along the way), is a lot of fun.

But ugh, what the Internet does not need is yet another 110-pound woman describing how a switch to cleaner foods led to her current sveltitude. OK, it's ostensibly a story about changing one's diet (in vain, we learn) to get better skin and accidentally losing weight in the process, and I suppose it never hurts to send the message that it's never too late to learn to like vegetables. And yet. As at least one ITG commenter astutely points out - it's going to be read as the story of how a woman lost 20 pounds by cutting carbs. In Jezebel terms, this would probably count as "trigger," if not necessarily, not intentionally, at least, "thinspo."

It's certainly an interesting piece of writing, though, with the ambiguity about whether all of this is or is not about weight. Short of serious illness (and at times even that), anything that causes a woman to lose weight, even a woman who is already thin, even a woman sufficiently thin that if she lost more weight, she'd look worse (remember that models are models because their faces can look good despite their thighs being that non-existent - most women, certainly past a certain age, can very well be too thin) is on some level about weight. Gluten intolerance, vegetarianism, mild food poisoning, stress- or busyness-related under-eating, and, evidently, a diet that's about clearing up acne, none of these need be about weight, but - as Edith Zimmerman certainly conveys, and as a less seemingly self-contradictory post wouldn't have managed -  it's never a value-neutral thing when a woman does. This is never not part of the equation, precisely because of the (internalized and usual) societal validation women get for losing weight.

The question, then, is how to deal with this. On the one hand, yay honesty. The more open women are about these pressures, the more the myth about there being some significant category of women oblivious to this will fall apart.

But on the other, we are not powerless against these forces. Once once we're aware of them, there are a range of possible responses, everything from gathering around the salad bar and confessing to having been "bad," to basically saying, yes, I live in a society that's like so, and I'm going to push such concerns as far back in my mind as possible, to the point of having only a vague recollection that they're out there. If you're someone who faces neither medical nor societal issues on account of your weight, be glad you have nothing to worry about on this front and find better things to fuss about. By all accounts you probably already have greater concerns - being thin or not-fat or whatever does not solve all of life's problems. (Read Rachel Hills here if you haven't already.) If you are someone whose life would benefit in some tangible way from losing weight, maybe do this, maybe not, but you too probably have more important things to focus on as well.


Britta said...

I think part of it is because, in certain areas of popular culture, everyone is 'naturally' an Audrey Tatou waiting to break out of her fat suit. If we find the magic health (not weight loss!) diet, we'll not only be healthy, but also be 110 lbs or under, since whatever is making our skin dull is also keeping us at a hefty 125 lbs.* This is one thing which makes it so difficult to talk about health, because many people are most healthy far from weights they are most skinny at. However, if one is at a normal weight, cutting out processed foods, or carbs, or whatever, will only cause you to lose weight if you also restrict calories, which then makes your diet a weight loss one.

*It's also really meaningless to talk about weight without any sense of height. 110 at 4'11" may indeed be kind of pudgy, whereas it's skeletal at 5'9". This girl looks to be 5'3"-5'6", a height where 125 seems pretty normal.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Yeah, height. I'm 5'2" and the "ideal" weight for a woman my height is 110, say the (fat-phobic, some would say) doctors, whereas a runway model will be that same weight at 5'10". This woman is not nine feet tall, but I can say with confidence she's not 5'2", either. Some confidence - there are always such things as camera angles, Photoshop...

"many people are most healthy far from weights they are most skinny at."

True. And it holds even if one doesn't accept health-at-any-size in its entirety (as in, even if one accepts that there are cases in which an individual might seek to lose weight for health reasons). If one looks at old photos, etc., people were overall much thinner than today, but there has always been a range of builds.

"However, if one is at a normal weight, cutting out processed foods, or carbs, or whatever, will only cause you to lose weight if you also restrict calories, which then makes your diet a weight loss one."

I think the thing with this, though, is that such changes are known to lead to eating less, thus the concept behind, well, diets. If anything, what seemed to be amiss in that post was, rather than replacing whichever not-so-healthy foods with healthier of the same general caloric content, or just plain eating the same but adding some vegetables, this had to be a restrictive diet.