Stay Tuned/Fake Fat Fake Tolerance

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

Fake Fat, Fake Tolerance
10 May 1998

A week of wondering about gender stereotypes, whether men are really as bad as some people seem to think they are, and how many of them are just trapped in a stereotype they never asked for. A week of wondering whether women are really portrayed as negatively and as stereotypically in the media as some of my friends seem to claim. A week of wondering if there's a different society somewhere I can run off and join, somewhere where none of this means a damned thing.

Entertainment Weekly has a lead-in this week about the increase in people and characters on television who aren't scared to be larger than waif-sized, from women with merely more-realistically-sized hips and butt all the way to the Two Fat Ladies of cooking show fame. The article suggests that it may finally be OK to be girthful, that Drew Carey has made it safe to be large and robust.

But there are counter-indications, even within the article itself. At the end, the article notes that such casting will probably be limited to supporting players, at least for the near future. John Levey, a VP of casting at Warner Brothers, is quoted:

"Movies and TV are a fantasy world," he says, so stars still need to be "a little more delicious than the rest of [us]."

Nice disclaimer at the last minute there.

More tellingly, aside from Carey (and the execrable Cartman of "South Park"), all of the names mentioned in the article are female.

Even someone who feels, as I do, that many gender-related slights are a result of misperception and thin skins ... even I cannot deny that the standard of appearance is different for women. The bar is higher.

As someone who has argued a number of times about the virtues of escapism, I can surely see the need to look at characters on TV who are prettier than we are. And it is true that men on television, for the most part, have idealized bodies also. But a man can get a job on a television show with a slight paunch and an ordinary figure. A woman cannot - unless she is a "color" character, by which I do not mean a person of color, but a secondary role which is intended primarily for comedic value.

I would like very much to believe that the standards are changing. I look at events like the debut of Mode magazine and am cheered, but I know it's a false cheer.

In the same issue of EW, there is an advertisement of a perfectly slender woman, sitting in a treehouse, eating Wow! potato chips with a blissful expression on her face. The treehouse setting and the caption ("Remember the simple pleasures of being a kid?") are a feint. The real message here is that you too can enjoy the ecstasy of pigging out, thanks to miracle substance Olestra, with none of the consequences.

It's a very Alice In Wonderland situation, when you think about it: Advertising sets the impossible standard for physical appearances, and advertising then attempts to get rich by selling us a way to cheat without consequences. Olestra. Phen/fen. Simplesse.

Don't do that ... but we know you will anyway, so here's a way to work around it.

Oddly enough, this comes back to some of the things I do and don't like about certain religions. To do such-and-such is a sin, but it's fun and a natural part of our behavior, so we know everyone will sin. Depending on your religion, you can either get forgiven or be damned, but one way or another, you'll end up a sinner. Don't try to beat the system.

Is there something genetic I didn't get here? Or does everyone else have as much trouble understanding this system as I do? And if everyone else has just as much trouble with it, then why are we all still allowing this system to exist?

When it comes to being skinny for the sake of beauty, women are targeted inequally, but when it comes to being skinny for the sake of "health reasons," no one is immune. Health is the second line of attack. Even women who honestly don't care what people think about them are subject to the doctrine of the health police.

Isabel Allende, whose book Aphrodite is a delightful romp through the linked pleasures of food and sex, notes in the introduction her concerns that all her research would make her fat.

This is a woman who doesn't seem to care much about other people's standards, so I can only conclude that she worries about her weight for her own sake - which, given her photos, seems a little ridiculous to me.

One problem, I think, which is is that we've become intolerant of any amount of body fat in our public standards. Being obese can definitely have bad consequences for your health, and there are certainly any number of obese people in this nation of couch potatoes. But a Rubenesque figure isn't the same as a Botero figure, and having a visible butt isn't going to kill you. People have become scared of putting on even a few extra pounds, and that's just ridiculous.

So, no, I can't bring myself to be enthused over the idea that there are a handful more women with real hips on television. It's nice to see, but it changes very little.

Ultimately, the appearance of weight-tolerance, like Olestra chips, is a fraud. Eat all you want and get no fatter. Parade symbols around all you want and get no more open-minded.

The difference, of course, is that Olestra comes with its own built-in punishment further down the digestive system. Sadly, there is no obvious retribution in sight for the culture of the underweight.


My fundamental olestra rant lurks in the archives.

The magazine Mode was a real magazine, the first to feature "plus-size" models (and there was a fair bit of horn-tooting about it, I might add). "Plus-size" in this case apparently meant "not quite normal-looking but not stick figures either." (Normally it is defined as dress sizes above twelve, which makes for an interesting gap in the middle, given the single-digit sizes most fashion models wear.) The most well-known model to be associated with the magazine was Emme Aronson, who is still doing quite well for herself, unlike most plus-size models.

Mode ceased to exist in 2001, and now [2007] the name tends to be associated with a fictional magazine on the television show "Ugly Betty" (whose titular character, I might add, is far cuter than many of the alleged elegant/glamorous beauties the fictional magazine portrays, but that is another rant entirely).

and now back to our program

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