Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The shoe-guilt school of criticism

Paulette Perhach's essay about the advisability of a "Fuck Off Fund" is a great read. That much is for sure. As writing, I loved it; read it! As advice? There I'm less convinced.

I mean, as advice, 'save up so you're not dependent on a guy or a specific job' is sound. Sound in the way that a plan for the week that involves jogging at 6 am, a full workday, and socializing over exactly one drink (no more, no less; red wine, for the heart), and then going home and prepping some quinoa, and then not watching any TV at all but actually getting cracking on whichever Great Book might remain on your list, is sound. Do everything right! Who can argue with that? If only it were so simple. If only those pesky desires didn't get in the way. Which reminds me of another Billfold piece, by Nona Willis Aronowitz, about the way that life's tragedies, rather than automatically bringing about perspective, inspire such things as shopping sprees. Can't-take-it-with-you and all that. It isn't just - as Jezebel helpfully YPISes (and I'm not being entirely sarcastic) - that being in a position to save is not universal - if you're impoverished and unemployed, good luck. It's also that... stuff is nice. (Did I recently buy a pair of shoes that are entirely incompatible with Toronto's salted sidewalks, salted until who knows which month but I'm thinking April? Maybe.) As is free time. Perhach advises working full time and having an additional job on weekends, and... while, fine, I do this, I can't fault the people who don't.

It's always the same, right? To lose weight, eat less than you burn. To save money, spend less than you earn. By all means, find new ways to help people with these goals (well, the latter) get there, but at least acknowledge that there are reasons - sensible and less so - why people aren't already doing what they already know they should. It's not generally because the advantages to a different routine haven't occurred to them.

And then there's the more troubling angle, from a feminist perspective - which is sort of the only perspective from which to read something like this. (Other than: as literature. Which I'd recommend.) Are women who, out of financial dependency, put up with sexually harassing bosses and mediocre-turned-abusive boyfriends to be faulted for having not thought to save up enough to get out of whichever situation? The structure of Perhach's essay - two alternate narratives - doesn't outright blame the woman who ends up screwed. It's more, I don't know, that this is an unavoidable conclusion. Of course, how would one offer that same, sound advice without a victim-blamey edge? With disclaimers. And disclaimers are annoying, and pointless, and it's not as if the ideal narrative Perhach offers involves 'win trust fund, have parents who support you until you're elderly.' So maybe just forget my qualms, the qualms of the all-too-fallible (but these are spectacular shoes), and read the thing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The "Even though I didn’t do it for weight loss, I dropped about 10 pounds since the start of the diet" era

When it comes to feminism, I'm admittedly a bit all over the place. I can't get myself to care about wedding symbolism, let alone the question of which female celebrities identify as feminist robots as versus as humanist robots. But I'm deeply, deeply opposed to the thing where, if you're a woman (and this impacts men, too, but so much less), you could always be eating better, and you must forever be reminded of this. This is most awful when applied to women who are heavy (because it's always presented as, that the world will end if a woman is fat, which, no). But you maybe see the phenomenon's full evil the most clearly when it gets applied to women who would in no way - not socially, not medically - even plausibly stand to benefit from losing weight, who might actually be worse off skinnier, but who must nevertheless, because Woman, strive to be more toned or balanced or who even knows.

If this were simply about fatphobia, we could condemn it but call it by that relatively limited definition. Instead, it's fatphobia and woman-phobia. It's not just about getting/staying thin, it's about it never being OK for any woman to not think about what she eats. (And by "think about what she eats," I don't mean, Thai or Vietnamese?)

What somehow gets to me the most is the new Empowered genre, which goes beyond This Is Not A Diet diets, and is only deep, deep between the lines about... how it's not OK to just eat whatever. Because... what? Unclear. It's just not. Because Health, presumably, but what if you're feeling fine to begin with? What if there's no reason whatsoever to believe that introducing tremendous food concern into your life wouldn't make you less healthy? How is this possibility inevitably skipped over?

So yes, I'm thinking partly of Cupcakes and Cashmere featuring a nutritionist who's advocating (seriously) a #KonMari approach to diet, where you get rid of all your good socks and then are like, where are my socks?, and then lose 10 pounds. This nutritionist begins with a whole disclaimer about how she's not about smoothies and bowls (which are now a thing in Toronto, despite the snow and general non-SoCal-ness, which is just odd), but about - and aren't they always? - finding ways to get people (women) to be more thoughtful about (to think more about) what they eat. To be more aware. Which is about weight loss, but not necessarily, so it's not supposed to count.

But mainly I'm thinking about Refinery29 featuring a quack dermatologist's diet plan. "'You'll gain incredible radiance, greater contours, decreased puffiness, and higher cheekbones,'" Dr. Quack tells the author, a slim young woman with no perceivable skin concerns. And note that, apart from "radiance," the alleged skin concerns here are all weight concerns. You eat differently, and your face will look different, because you'll lose weight. And what do you think happens? "I glowed, my cheekbones stood at attention, and my clothes fit me a little bit better. For the first time since I started working out, I saw the beginnings of abs definition — something that had eluded me before." Also, "the contours of my face were more defined," notes the author, but surely this isn't any of it about weight, right? "Even though I didn’t do it for weight loss, I dropped about 10 pounds since the start of the diet." Was this woman ten pounds overweight before? Irrelevant - in this arena, the between-the-lines thinner is better still reigns. And we're somehow supposed to not read all the stuff about contours and cheekbones as being about weight. It's about skin tone, about decreasing euphemistic puffiness.

Which just, ugh. If you want to spend up on skincare products, enjoy. They probably won't do anything other than decrease your shoe-shopping budget (we all have priorities), but they won't involve giving up pasta/cheese/coffee/wine/joy for the sake of imperceptible physical changes. It's the diet thing, with its 24/7 attentiveness requirement, that needs to stop.