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a deadjournal comment that turned into a rant by itself - helen-louise
baratron
baratron
a deadjournal comment that turned into a rant by itself
There are lots of kinds of physical beauty. Modern Western society has decided to focus on a particular type that, for female-bodied people, is tall, slim and willowy. This idea of beauty is a comparatively new thing. If you look at portraits painted at various times over the past few centuries, you'll see that curves were most definitely in fashion for a lot of that time. Victorian women wore bustles to try to make their bottoms look bigger. Georgian women have soft, plump features like babies. In Rubens' time, zaftig was most definitely in.

According to a Cosmopolitan magazine in my doctor's surgery, in some modern African societies, women go on a diet before they get married. But rather than going on a diet to lose weight, they diet to gain weight. For, in a land where famine is common, fat is prized. Being fatter increases your chance of surviving if food becomes scarce, so increases your desirability as a breeding partner - which is, apparently, what our brains are subconsciously looking for even if you're childfree by choice. Makes no sense to me, but that's biology for you. (I wonder whether anyone has done research into what people look for in a same-sex partner?).

Anyway, society has decided to focus on one type of beauty, and the mass media hysterically report this, as if that is the only type of beauty that counts. This is entirely unhelpful for all of us whose genetics will not allow tall, slim and willowy in this lifetime. The word "fat" has become associated with "bad" on such a deep subconscious level that it's difficult even to think of oneself as "fat" and "beautiful" at the same time. Yet the idea that these things must be mutually exclusive is crazy.

You are shorter and fatter than modern Western society dictates. You also have fantastic curves - breasts and hips to die for - that just wouldn't be possible on a thinner person. These things are highly desirable, in my opinion. I like curves.

When the mass media bleats that "blonde hair" is sexy, or a "suntan" is in, many people with common sense are able to block that out if it's not helpful. If you have thick black hair, why should you damage it with bleach to try to turn it blonde for this month's fashion? If you have naturally pale skin, why should you damage it with ultraviolet to get a tan for this month's fashion? This blocking out is fairly easy for most of us to do.

So why, then, when the mass media bleats that tall, slim & willowy is in, do those of us whose genetics won't permit that get unhappy? Why is there this unspoken assumption that everyone should be thin, and that if you're fat it's your fault? Why is it so hard to block that out?

I can say all this - I can lecture about it, because I've been on a very low-fat diet for almost a year for health reasons. Yes, I have lost some "weight" - but I haven't gone down to a skinny size 6. I've stopped at a plumpish size 14, because that's what my genetics think I should be. If I had been trying to lose "weight", I'd probably be really depressed by now, because I've been eating a healthy diet with a lot of fruit and vegetables, lots of complex carbohydrates, a mixture of vegan proteins and only a little, vegetable-based, highly polyunsaturated fats - yet I still have big thighs, rolls of fat and visible "cellulite". Yes, I could force myself onto some kind of low-calorie torture for a while, to squeeze into a smaller-sized outfit - but for what? My current diet is healthy and balanced. How could a low-calorie diet possibly give me enough energy to live my life long term? Having enough food that I'm able to exercise and use my body is important to me, and to my long-term health.

I can understand dissatisfaction with physical appearance - especially if some of it is "your fault" - if you eat total crap or have no time to exercise. But I feel it should be based on what is physically possible with your genetic makeup, and on goals that will actually improve your health. Yo-yo dieting is generally worse for your health than staying fat, and certainly is much, much worse for your health than long-term healthy eating, where you gradually reprogram your brain to enjoy different foods. I still crave chocolate - who doesn't? - but having had the gallstones for so long, I now feel terribly naughty if I eat 25g of dark chocolate all at once, and lose desire for it after that. I'll always want dessert - who doesn't? - but I've had to learn to plan for it by eating a heathier main course, and low-fat snacks during the day, rather than being suddenly ambushed after a greasy meal.

This rant has gone off on several tangents, many quite far from the original, supportive "You look great as is" comment it was meant to be - but that's no bad thing. To pull it back together, I think people should learn to see the beauty that's inside themselves, rather than constantly comparing themselves to other people. We are all different, and that's how it should be. And I do, honestly, feel that health is more important than looks. A stronger heart and larger lung capacity seem much more important to me than fitting into a particular size dress.

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Comments
syllopsium From: syllopsium Date: 25th July 2006 17:07 (UTC) (Link)
That's not precisely true. Whilst it's fairly accurate to say that media tends to demean those with 'excessive' fat it also swings between stick thin and curvy on a regular basis (just check out heat or similar over a six month period).

It's hard in the same way that despite decent amounts of self confidence, if you're outside any societal stereotypes it'll occasionally get you down. Also, being fat is one factor (others include things such as muscle build) that can be affected by changing your lifestyle. There's always the nagging doubt that because changing your diet/doing sport will usually change your build to some extent, that you're not doing enough.

Health, and being comfortable with your body is definitely more important than fitting an ideal weight, true. I tend to deal with it by thinking 'well, the last person to see me naked didn't seem to have a problem, so sod the world'.

On a mild tangent, I spent part of Saturday night chatting to a woman and her friends in my local. She was tall, slim and generally willowy. She sat and moaned about how her friends were so much more curvy than she was - you can't win..
sashajwolf From: sashajwolf Date: 26th July 2006 10:44 (UTC) (Link)
it also swings between stick thin and curvy on a regular basis

Yes, but its idea of "curvy" is usually somewhere around size 12. From the vantage-point of a size 20, there's no meaningful difference between that and "stick thin".
aardvarkoffnord From: aardvarkoffnord Date: 25th July 2006 18:12 (UTC) (Link)
I would say "Look at porn". Porn sells, and is a huge industry. The taste in both womens' and mens' bodies has not changed much over the last couple of decades (although the poses, the shaving, the hair, the clothes etc. have moved like the tides).

The womens' bodies are much more curvy than in the mainstream press. Most men, especially young men, are more turned on by curvy bodies than flat.

The men for men mags on the other hand (apart from us bears) still go for that Adonis look. Grrrr...

When it comes down to it, the mind indicates what we find attractive. The press are lagging in the system.

[On a relevant tangent, I grew up with a copy of "The Sexual Practises of Savages" in our bathroom. The whole "bigger is better" was a very strong theme.]

When it comes down to it, people who have high body standards are the losers.

OK - I'm now going to post these feelings in my own journal, since I feel about this very strongly.
purplerabbits From: purplerabbits Date: 25th July 2006 20:03 (UTC) (Link)
So why, then, when the mass media bleats that tall, slim & willowy is in, do those of us whose genetics won't permit that get unhappy?


Because people rarely get physically attacked on the street for not being blond.


I am perfectly happy with my height, by the way.
baratron From: baratron Date: 4th August 2006 19:43 (UTC) (Link)
I tried to answer this a week ago, and couldn't find the right words. I was not trying to say that you should be unhappy with your height, only pointing out that it has an effect on how a person looks. Size n at height x will not look the same as size n at height x+y.

To be honest, while I bitch & moan about being short, it annoys me more because I can't reach things comfortably and because clothes are rarely cut for my height ("standard" height clothes have legs & sleeves that are too long, but "petite" fitting tend to be cut down all over so I end up needing a size or two bigger than my usual size - which has bad body image karma). I don't actually think there's something wrong with being my height, or I'd be a much less happy person :)
jinian From: jinian Date: 26th July 2006 05:10 (UTC) (Link)
Nicely written.
esbat From: esbat Date: 27th July 2006 08:51 (UTC) (Link)
For, in a land where famine is common, fat is prized.

I think that's the key. If you look at the trends in fashion, curviness is generally desireable in times of hardship, e.g. the war years and afterwards and less so in times of plenty. Biologically speaking it does make sense to a limited extent. The attraction you might feel for someone else is subconsciously influenced by your perception of their biological viability. In a society where food is cheap and plentiful and the easy path is being unhealty and unfit, being lean and fit requires willpower which equals strength of character which equals a greater chance of success and survival in life. I think those who display strength of character will to a certain extent always be attractive on a biological level. It also seems that the more overweight the general population becomes, the more desireable it is to be thin. That sort of makes sense too.
rhialto From: rhialto Date: 28th July 2006 17:11 (UTC) (Link)
It also seems that the more overweight the general population becomes, the more desirable it is to be thin.

A friend mentioned to me recently how they had noticed many more fat people in the UK than in the Netherlands (I wonder if it is related to the fact that the UK tends to pick up more/sooner bad American habits than the rest of Europe (I'm thinking of bad eating habits (since that is something one can and should do something about, imho; if it is genetic disposition I agree that trying to force weight loss is unhealthy and undesirable))).
So combining these two, perhaps the desirability-of-thin is greater in the UK than in the Netherlands. I also wonder how to measure that, especially since I never had any interest in losing weight so I never paid attention to any dieting advertising other than to mock it.
From: gothicat Date: 27th July 2006 10:18 (UTC) (Link)
The anon comment was me.. sorry about that. Forgot I wasn't logged in in that browser...Kitty
baratron From: baratron Date: 4th August 2006 19:38 (UTC) (Link)
I still have an ad on peer2peer?! I'd better find that & delete it... dread to think what it says :)

I wonder what other horrors of mine there are lurking around teh intarnets? The problem with having been online for so many damned years... heh.

Of course, if you'd read my userinfo carefully, you'd have seen my friends list policy & wouldn't need to ask :)
From: gothicat Date: 5th August 2006 09:18 (UTC) (Link)
fair, do appologuise.. was reading from work and must have missed it..
From: x_mass Date: 2nd August 2006 11:26 (UTC) (Link)
as you know I react to food in almost a dimetrically opposite way to you. For example I don't crave chocolate, chocolate for me is a useful drug for certain situations - as to the taste - its alright - nothing special, the worse part is it getting covered in sugar. When I eat fat (i like really fatty chocolate) it makes me feel full and the idea of having a pudding is like - no way. My real downfall is sugar, be it simple or in simple starches, for me bad eating is eating sugar and not exercsing (which I actually love doing).
For me the whole issue about my body is image, how it changes how people perceive what I say about myself. For my entire life I have people judging me on my aperance, telling me that I am lying, that what I say/am is a fraud all because of how my body looks. Is it any wonder that I am obsessed with how people percieve me. I can either become a hermit or have to live in a society that denies me and hurts me. Or I can work though my issues and learn to swap a thick skin for deeper understanding of myself (and that paragraph sums up what i am doing so well I'm going to cross-post it to my journal
now I have posted and I'm shattered and I cant think what else to say other than thanks for the post I wouldn't have written mine without you
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