07 April 2010

Blinded by beauty?

The cover of Magazine No. 1 features a "larger" size model. She is a size four or six, and is touted as representing a "real woman." The cover of Magazine No. 2 features Celeb X sans makeup and does not retouch or alter the photo in any way (or so the editors insist.) She is glowing in all her 'natural' beauty, leaving the rest of us wondering why we don't have flawless, smooth skin.

These are two recent trends emerging within the fashion world that is being touted as progress by both many people within the eating disorders community and those who are trying to promote positive body image.

But is this really progress?

Let's take the first example. The idea someone who is a size four or six is considered more representative of the average woman is laughable in a country where the majority of women wear a size 10-12. The idea that a model sized 12 is considered "plus size," a la Crystal Renn, is ludicrous. I probably wore about a size eight pre-anorexia (my size depended on the brand; ever try to just go pull a pair a jeans off the rack and buy them without trying them on?) I considered a four to be tiny; of course, a four would now fall off me since my relapse.

The world tells me I should be proud to be a size one/three. My doctor tells me this means I'm ill and need to gain weight.

Let's take the second example. Jessica Simpson is on the cover of Marie Claire sans makeup. The editors also insist the picture hasn't been "Photoshopped" in any way. As a former journalist, I know that this is utter bullshit. ALL media pics are altered in some way in this day and age, if nothing more than to make the pic clearer or to clean up background noise or to enhance the color so it shows up in print better.

Some pictures of course — such as the the incredible shrinking photo of Phillipa Hamilton (another size four model considered "large") — are drastically changed, making an already emaciated model look as if she couldn't possibly be human. No one could achieve the proportions of altered picture of Hamilton and still live; her torso looked slimmer than the tightest corset and anatomically, there simply wasn't room in there for functioning organs such as a liver or kidneys.

My real problem with the fact that these two trends are considered so great is - what is so great about being beautiful? Of course, thinness still equals better in this society and no one can deny it no matter how popular Renn, Kate Dillon, Emme or other so-called plus sized models are. Fashion shows and fashion magazines are still filled with thin, pale, ethereal models who seem to float gracefully through life and look as if a morsel of food hasn't passed their lips in days.

But back to my question - what is so great about being beautiful? My grandmother was considered a great beauty in her time, and pictures of her as a young woman bears this out. She was considered so beautiful, she attracted men like flies and married seven times. But in the end, her beauty was not enough and she was left by her last husband in 1966 and never again married or was part of a relationship. Her sole accomplishments in life (besides collecting and discarding husbands) was to have two children; although my mother would say they basically raised themselves.

Her hair remained auburn until the end, and I could still see a trace of the fine features and bone structure that was her crowning achievement. She died alone, living in subsidized housing and somewhat estranged from her children and grandchildren. She had no friends, and neither a funeral nor memorial service was held for her. We said goodbye by cleaning out her small apartment, filled with hoarded TV guides and tons of QVC jewelry, much of it still with the tags attached. I was given a small, 1930s diamond ring of hers; a gift from my grandfather from their first marriage and he still says to this day she was the most beautiful woman he ever saw. I feel sad that is what he thinks of after two marriages with her.

These two trends disturb me because they are perpetuating beauty as the crowning achievement for women. I have been told I am beautiful; I do not believe it and I certainly do not possess the beauty (thank God!) that my grandmother did. As my grandmother's beauty faded, she grew bitter and worked frantically to keep it up; but to no avail, we all age and no amount of creams or hair dye can hide that.

Don't get me wrong. I like to look nice; I wear makeup and try to dress in clothes that are flattering, although at my current weight of 98 pounds, I look emaciated and there's no hiding it. I'm particularly sensitive by my stick-thin arms (that someone so kindly told me looked "anorexic") and the vein on the left side of my face on my forehead which is again prominent since I've lost weight. Most of my recovery clothes are too big, and I am reduced to wearing leggings and baggy shirts, or else dressing like a teenager at 44. (I like to call such clothes "Sluts 'R Us" clothes — will the trend of showing so much skin never end???)

I guess that would bring me to another question - what's so great about being thin? I haven't enjoyed it. I'm cold most of the time, and I can't afford the designer clothes paraded around by majority of still-thin models. It hasn't brought me happiness; in fact, I've recently spent each morning crying and begging God to take away my anorexia and each afternoon searching for a treatment program that my insurance will pay for and I can go to in May. My relapse back into anorexia and current obsession with weight and calories and size sucks up much time that I could be learning and reading and living.

So I would ask all of you these questions:
What is so great about being beautiful?
What is so great about being thin?
And what could all of us as women accomplish if we didn't focus on being beautiful or thin?

And finally, have we as women really progressed? Or have we only traded one corset for another?

(Bonus question for thought - What constitutes a "real woman," anyway?")


Frugalista said...

Hear hear!! Our society idolize beauty and being thin. I am guilty of holding it up as my standard as well. The most basic formula I can come up with is this. Beauty=ability to become a model/reality tv star/actor/snag a rich man/etc=big bucks=happiness and a lavish lifesyle. Beauty is power and it's what that beauty supposedly can get you that people are after. The formula breaks down of course ie: your grandmother. But, that in general is what we strive for. It's not right but I am not sure how it can ever change.

lisalisa said...

ugh, I know! I was looking through a magazine for "heavier" women and noticed that all of the models looked normal, not heavy. They just looked like normal weight women, size 10 or 14, like you said. I think it would be frustrating to be truly overweight, pick up this magazine and thik "great, here is something i can ideantify with", and open it up to find that yo uare still not bein represented.

i like this post, it was very though-provoking.

Arielle Bair (Becker) said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I did a YT video about something similar a couple of weeks ago.

Silly Girl said...

Your post made me think. Good job!

Marge of Lake LaBerge said...

I remember my first idol when I was a teenager. She was photographed by Loraine Gilbert in 1980 and was on the cover of the Toronto Star in July 2005. She was a tree-planter, probably in her early 20s, blonde and strong, posing behind a make-shift canvas backdrop that looked as though it once belonged to a bush-camp mess-tent. She was covered in dirt - all over her skin, matted in her hair, caked in the fibers of her blue bandana, and stained her tree-bags. She held her shovel over her shoulders, her arms casually draped over the staff. Leaning on one leg, her head tilted up, she looked down on the viewer. Her Carhart pants were ripped, her boots looked as though they were about to fall apart, and there were visible cuts and scrapes exposing through the various layers of cotton. She gazed into the camera like a model - sort of half-witted and confident: heroic.

I was blinded by beauty. When I went tree-planting for the first time, I talked to my rookie crew-members about this photograph, and almost all of the new young women on our crew were inspired to go after seeing that article. Here I met the most beautiful people I know to this day.

The corset has changed, but many young women I know are veering in a different direction. It's the "fuck it" attitude that is so attractive.

Our economy is solely based on insecurities. The corset will always be the same if you stay tuned, but you can stop reading, listening, and watching. I have.

Amber Rochelle said...

I don't have any answers to these questions...but I completely agree with this post. It really irks me when people of a healthy weight are considered "plus-size." I could go on, but I'll refrain from leaving my rants in your comments section! I appreciate your recognition of these trends. And I agree that I'm not sure I'd consider this progress.

Kimber Yoga said...

I don't remember ever being as miserable as I was when I was anorexic. In my life thin has equaled unhappiness. In fact, I think of my anorexic period as my suicidal period. I felt that I didn't deserve to take up space in the world.
I've never been happier than I am right now. I love my body, and I've finally learned how to use the inner power that I had turned against myself to my benefit instead of my detriment. But it's taken more than twenty years. And lots of yoga.