Friday, August 05, 2005

frustrated fat chick

I was wrong. It's only August 4th. OK, so the date above this post says it's August 5th, but I started writing this thing on the 4th and because I haven't gone to bed since then, for all intents and purposes, it's the 4th. Do I sound cranky? Sorry.

WARNING: What follows is a rant about fat. If you are in any way offended by this topic, or if you don't want to read my crankiness about it, please stop here. Thanks, and have a lovely day.

SECOND WARNING: When engaged in emotional typing (as I have been since I started this post), I revert to my tried-and-true writing style using copious parenthetical phrases. Some have found this technique distracting (you know who you are). I find it brings my writing closer to feeling like spoken words. In any event, consider yourself forewarned (that is, if you are brave enough to continue beyond this point even after two warnings).

THIRD WARNING: (Uh oh, make that three.) Several of the links in this post go to sites with potentially offensive content. Please be mindful of that when you click. You can't say I didn't warn you (repeatedly).

I allude to size acceptance in dribs and drabs, inconsistently in this online journal. And as I’ve mentioned in those mini-rants, I believe that the only way I can do justice to my take on the subject will be to write an extensive and well thought-out essay. Said piece would require me to spend large, dedicated amounts of time doing nothing but wordsmithing my sentiments and opinions. The last time I mentioned this, I all but swore off writing about it again until which time I can get around to requesting a sabbatical and moving to the mountains of Montana (temporarily) to concentrate on the craft.

But there’s a new controversy swirling on the heels of a revelation, and the lure is too strong to resist. (Not that I don't empathize with the people who will lose their jobs or be otherwise negatively affected by the latter turn of events, but this made me chuckle.)

Quick! What is the first thing you think of when you see this picture?

Be honest.

OK, here's the evolution of my unspoken thoughts when I first saw it:

Wow, those women look more like real women than most anyone else I've ever seen in any ad. Especially in their underwear. That's kinda' cool. And how brave of them to pose so exposed. Of course, they're still far slimmer and shapelier than I, and they still adhere pretty closely to the emperical standards of beauty. But, hey, good effort.

I'm not brave enough to show my face zits and all (unlike Rosie O'Donnell, who regularly posts pictures of herself sans make-up and coif), much less my entire body covered only partially by my Skivvies. These women have the confidence to show us their not-size-0 bodies. Personally, I think it makes a tremendous stride toward creating an atmosphere where people can be comfortable with themselves, and other people are comfortable (and polite) enough not to sling barbs at them. It will be an immensely long journey -- especially in the current 'obesity epidemic' mania -- but this is a step in the right direction.

Now of course, there are a great many people who don't want porkers like me getting the crazy notion in our heads that we're OK and can (that is, are allowed to) be happy with ourselves. So, they're jumping up and down all over the place screaming, "FREAKS! FAT FREAKS!"

Take Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times. He fired a shot, and the ensuing barrage has been deafening (although it really started several months ago in England, where the Campaign For Real Beauty began). In this short article, he jams home his belief that these women are "chunky" and should be replaced with "fantasy babes" so as not to offend his delicate sensibilities any more. I now take a giant personal risk as a writer and dive head-first into a very old cliché. Beauty, my dear Mr. Roeper, is in the eye of the beholder. Just because you prefer women whose physicality differs from those represented in these ads, rest assured that there is a healthy contingent of men (and women) who are salivating (and more) at these women on a regular basis.

Then, there's Slate’s Seth Stevenson. His invective runs deeper and meaner than that of Mr. Roeper. I initially gave him leeway for his use of the word Brobdingnagian, because despite its dictionary definition of “marked by tremendous size,” I could see where he might be relating the tallness of the billboard ads to the giants in Gulliver's Travels (although I doubt that he would have called them Lilliputian had it been a small magazine ad). However, I could no longer give him the benefit of the doubt when he ripped through "husky," "big-boned," "ample," "round," and "hefty." He goes on to speak of paunches, asses, and cottage cheese thighs, and finally delivers his zinger, "bedonkadonk,"which he even misspelled (if a definitive spelling can be had when using urban slang).

He says, and I quote,

Dove says these ladies range from size 4 to size 12 (it's not tough to tell which is which), and were discovered all over the country.

It's not tough to tell? Are you serious? Do you have so little to do with your life that you have mastered the skill of being able to visually determine a woman's dress size by simply scanning her photo? Do you not live in the same country I do, where the average size of an adult woman is a 14 (which, by the way, means that all the "husky" women in this campaign are still smaller than average)? Do you really not interact with any women bigger than a size 4?

He goes on,

... in the end, you simply can't sell a beauty product without somehow playing on women's insecurities. If women thought they looked perfect — just the way they are — why would they buy anything?

Well, now I think you've missed the point that the supporters of this ad campaign are touting. It's not about the fact that Unilever wants to sell stuff. We know that. We're not complete morons. The point is that they were bright enough to realize that featuring women of various shapes and sizes would speak to tens of millions of women who can't relate to Kate Moss (and thereby potentially sell more products). The fact that it causes debate further drawing attention to their products (and thus, bringing even more sales) is a bonus.

There's also the very important point that it is possible for a woman to be comfortable with herself and still want to take care of (and pride in) her appearance. Not everyone who teems with self-assurance denounces all personal care products because their egos are intact.

At one point, he almost comes close to getting it:

When I first saw one of these smiley, husky gals on the side of a building, my brain hiccupped. Something seemed out of place. Here I was, staring at a "big-boned" woman in her underwear, but this wasn't an Adam Sandler movie, and I wasn't supposed to laugh at her. It felt almost revolutionary.

He tries to redeem himself:

Short-Term Grade: A. These ads are real attention getters—everyone's talking about them. On that level, they're a smashing success. Also, Dove now owns the "friend of the everywoman" angle. Smart move on their part to spot this open niche and grab it. Finally, if I can get sappy for a moment, it is sort of nice to see the unperfect have their day in the sun.

I'm supposed to believe that he's sentimental about these women whom he has just repeatedly disparaged, and thus gets "sappy?" The proximity to the word "unperfect" negates his flimsy attempt at supporting the poor fat chicks. I'm not buying it, Seth. Then, he backslides,

Overall Grade: D. Sadly, this is not a winning play for the long haul. If Dove keeps running ads like this, women will get bored with the feel-good, politically correct message. Eventually (though perhaps only subconsciously), they'll come to think of Dove as the brand for fat girls. Talk about "real beauty" all you want—once you're the brand for fat girls, you're toast.

"The brand for fat girls?" Please provide an example where a product became "the brand for fat girls" and then subsequently plunged into oblivion (i.e. became "toast"). If you're really paying attention to the numbers (you know, the ones we hear all the time about 60% of the population being overweight or obese), you might realize that 100 million not-thin women in the U.S. need products of all types (clothes, jewelry, furniture, cars, etc.). If only a portion of that group finds a brand that caters to them specifically and meets their needs appropriately, I guarantee you that their billions of dollars will be gladly spent to keep the maker of that brand (for fat girls) afloat.

And do you really think people will tire of "feel good" messages?

Eh, phooey! I've had it up to here with being treated like a human being. Bring back the ads that make me feel like crap! I'm more accustomed to being treatedly badly (and alternately being completely ignored) anyway.

I'd also like to know when it became politically correct to be a size 12 woman, or more importantly, to address size 12 women as a protected class.

All right, so I've been working on this for hours. It's far too late for me to be here, and I'm not done. My husband has already had about half his night's sleep, and I haven't even brushed my teeth. So, the rest of this might be sloppy, and I won't get another edit in on the first part, so be kind. I'll come back and clean it up later.

Huzzah, a nice counterpoint to the two previous writers mentioned. Wendy McClure wrote this piece, also in the the Chicago Sun-Times.

A book I recently discovered and only just started to skim is The Fat Girl's Guide to Life by Wendy Shanker . This is the first I've heard of Ms. Shanker, but so far, so good. I haven’t read the entire book (and therefore can’t account for the entirety of its content), but what I’ve read thus far is spot-on to my life. It is a more mature version of the connection I earlier felt reading Marilyn Wann’s Fat?So! and Camryn Manheim’s Wake Up, I’m Fat!

An aside. Why all the exclamation points?

In any regard, what I’ve seen of Ms. Shanker’s book bears a striking resemblance to what I would like to convey in my future essay; partly because the details ring familiar, and partly because I find her writing style to be engaging (perhaps it's that comedic training). The book also introduced me to the first website I've found that comes close to addressing size acceptance in the manner I find most intelligent (although, like previous disclaimers, I have only read portions of it and can't attest to all its content). That site is Big Fat Blog.

On an indirectly related topic...

There’s this movie that I love, mostly because I believe that -- had I seen it when I was 14 years old and been capable to take its message to heart -- I might have better handled the struggle I had growing up big. It’s no Citizen Kane, but it’s required viewing for my 12-year old nieces and nephews when they come to visit. It’s called Angus.

In a nutshell, Angus is “the fat kid who’s good at science and fair at football” – and therefore the subject of much verbal abuse, ridicule, and humiliation from his peers. (Here’s one tepid review, but at least it’s not the dreck found on those horrible movie review sites.)

To me, the crux of this movie is simply learning to accept oneself. It culminates in his monologue at the Freshman Winter Ball. He’s decked his nemesis, Rick, and sets about defending his Bethune Theory that “there is no normal.” After observing that there is a room full of people who each have their own individual idiosyncrasies, he asks, “so what is it, Rick? Are you normal, or are you just one of us?” Rick –- obviously thick-headed and overly convinced of the power of his good looks and popularity –- replies, “whatever I am, it’s something you’ll never be.” Angus responds confidently, “Thank God,” turns on his heel, and walks out to the thunderous applause of his approving classmates.

Last vignette for today/tonight/this morning.

Stephanie Klein keeps a blog called Greek Tragedy. The weak thread between my above rant and this often-brilliant site is her claim to be a fat girl. But the real reason I mention her here is because of her intermittent ability to write the hell out of a thought. Today’s entry is riveting.

I just recently learned about her blog (reading an article in the New York Times about how she turned her blog into a book contract), and so I’ve read very few of her numerous entries. I feel like I’m veering into that standard disclaimer again: “Any references made to Stephanie Klein, her blog, and any/all of her writings is in no way an endorsement of her opinions… .” Well, like I said, I haven’t read the vast majority of it, so it’s difficult to make a fully formed observation. But after tonight’s post, I had to mention her.

Good stinkin' night. Ack, snorfff, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....

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