Large and In Charge

Photo from Glamour.
Photo from Glamour.
Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:

Recently, Glamour magazine ran this photo in an article promoting healthy body image.

The majority of the online responses were positive, and even my male friend Baker commented on her nice smile and other weird, irrelevant things like that.  But my first thought when I saw it was “What is the dealie with the fat lady in Glamour?”

Why am I being such a hater?  I spend so much time thinking about body image and how the man keeps me down, so shouldn’t I be all for sisterhood and junk?  It would seem that men are the ones promoting these standards for women, as people in power are normally want to do to people without power.  As Hawthorne wrote in his story The Blithedale Romance about a particularly feminine character, “She is the type of woman such as man has spent centuries in making.”  If men are making the rules, why are women the ones enforcing them?

It’s a similar strategy to that in colonialism.  For centuries, conquerors have known that the best way to get the natives to do what you want is to make them police themselves and each other.  They’ll do what you want if they think it’s in their best interests—and then you can feel both uninvolved and not guilty.  Bonus points if you can convert them to Christianity, because then not only do you get to feel unbad, but you get to feel very good. And we all know from Strunk and White it’s not worse to use un-negative better to use positive statements.

Columbus cut the natives’ hands off if they were naughty.  This worked well if he wanted to have a colony with no possibility of puppets.  But sometimes people rebelled against him because they weren’t into being mutilated and tortured.  Then Cabeza De Vaca found out that actually the cross, not the hand-chop, will best subdue.  He used Christianity to convince the natives that obedience to him would make them happiest.  He didn’t need to cut anyone’s hands off to keep order.

Ben Franklin applied a similar concept of incentive production when he basically invented the American work ethic.  As he says, “Men are saved, not by Faith, but by the want of it.” People change most effectively when they want to and when they feel that they will benefit from it.  Franklin’s maxims in Poor Richard’s Almanac don’t directly say you must work harder—they get you to think I must work harder.  But don’t worry, they won’t turn you into a dirty Animal Farm horse commie.

Poor Richard’s sayings are all about why it’s good for you to work all the time.  Taxes are bad, true, but “we are taxed twice as much by our Idleness, three times as much by our Pride, and four times as much by our Folly.”  I still feel like I’m taxed the most by taxes, but he has a point.  Being productive sounds great when it is presented as something that makes your life more interesting.  After all, “Dost thou love life then do not squander time.”  Well, I love life, so I’d better get working, especially since “God helps them that help themselves,” “Diligence is the Mother of Good luck,” and “If we are industrious we shall never starve.” (So to all you starving people, why don’t you just start being more industrious?)

Whether you’re colonizing natives in the New World or trying to keep women down without actually having to do anything, it’s always good to make the people you control feel that everything is their idea.  It’s like makeup or Chinese food—once you see how it happens, you kind of lose interest.  Unless you’re on a late-night binge, in which case you know but you just don’t care.

Now that I know I’m part of the problem, I can’t tell who to be mad at: myself, or everyone else, especially men.  Maybe my friend Emily was right when she pointed out “We blame men for letting this happen…However, we are grown ass women and need to stop blaming other peeps but ourselves.”

That being said, I think it is better to be mad at men than to hate on myself, because depression directed inward slows your metabolism and makes you eat your feelings, whereas anger directed outward burns calories.  Everyone wins!!!!!!

7 thoughts on “Large and In Charge

  1. I think that, while well argued, this completely misses the mark.

    Women aren’t puppet subjects who have internalized the beauty myths of men – they are the original purveyors of them.

    Just as men are (far) more concerned with cock size than most women are, women are far more critical of each others looks than men are.

    The beauty standards have far more to do with ranking internal to the sex than between them. Consider the differences between how women look in women’s magazines vs mens. In the women’s magazines it is about being thin, tall, white, and possessing both taste and money.

    In men’s magazines the standards for beauty revolve around the exposure of breasts. We are pretty simple that way.

    When was the last time you heard a man complain about a woman’s fat ankles? Or that her hair just didn’t have that shine or full body? Or that her handbag and shoes didn’t match?

    And for the record, that woman in the picture is smoking hot.

  2. To put a few things out there:

    1. I can’t take anyone seriously whose posts include the word cock. Come on.

    2. I think we agree that women are hyper concerned with their weight, more so than men. Women police each other, thus relieving men of that awkward and unfun burden. This goes along with your final point (ok, final real point.) Men definitely don’t think about things like shiney hair, but women do. This way, men get this (hopefully) pretty perfect package at the end, but they have no idea what went into it. The whole point of makeup and other products like that is that you don’t notice them.

    3. The standards for beauty for men’s magazines do not entirely resolve around the exposure of breasts, though clearly that’s pretty important. It’s also about being very thin. Not that i have a problem with that, clearly I like thin models. I’m just saying we shouldn’t oversimplify too much.

    Are the women in men’s magazines not thin and tall? I think that we agree on some things here–the versions in women’s magazines are more extreme. Women try to look like that, but fail and usually end up looking more like the ones in mens magazines. So everyone wins…kind of.

  3. I don’t seriously disagree with anything in your reply, but I still find the notion that women have internalized male standards of beauty to be a suspect contention, when it seems clear to me they are policing their own more rigorous standards.

    Yes I think there is some overlap between them (we are all predisposed to like both youth, and a pretty face), but it also seems clear to me that the standards women set (especially for weight) are well beyond what men would ever insist upon.

    If men actually set the standards for beauty I submit women would desire to look more like voluptuous porn stars with the perpetual come-on pout than skinny supermodels with a bored vacant gaze.

    There seems to me to be an inherent class system at work in the standards women set. Being beautiful means not just having the limitless free time to work out constantly, and be thin, but also to have the right bag, right shoes, the perfect overcoat, accessories, expensive face-creams, etc. Items few men would ever even notice as being important to beauty.

    You suggest that the end result is a prettier woman, but I submit these are actually signals to other women more than they are to other men. For example I cannot tell the difference between any of the shoe brands a woman wears, but I know women who can sort everyone in a restaurant by them at a glance.

    My point about the male ranking system revolving around the size of our ‘members’ stands (though it would also include athletic prowess). It is de rigeur for men to joke and tease about our size out of any proportion to its interest to women. Marylin Monroe was in ‘how to marry a millionaire’ not ‘how to find a guy who is well-hung’, but we men still insist on ranking ourselves by this method.

    Ultimately my point is we rank internally to our sex by different measures than we are ranked by the opposite sex, and while these standards do occasionally overlap, they are not the responsibility of the other sex imposing them on us.

  4. I’m siding with the other posters here. I found the woman very attractive. I’m wondering if the super thin female image promoted by advertisers in their heads, in the internal body image of women, but not so deeply embedded in the minds of the general public when it comes time to picking a physical girlfriend or wife. I wonder if there’s a survey to measure that.

    But I agree that projecting anger out is more healthy than internalizing it. You can hate me if it makes you feel better!

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