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Various - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
I bought a rug for my room. A round one that protects the wood from my chair. It's a good thing. It's also a heavy thing. I must remember to only buy rugs when I don't have to carry them two blocks from the store to stow at work for the afternoon before taking a cab home.

With carpets on the brain, I started thinking about where I work, which has a particularly horrible dreary tan carpet. (As if the dreary tan weren't bad enough, it also stains easily.) So I took some pictures and photoshopped in a red rug and a teal rug--the difference is amazing. How much more expensive is red or teal dye that it was decided to go for this instead?

Anyway, thanks to ani_bester for clueing me in on JKR's new addition to her site, ranting (in a very bloglike way) about the obsession with thinness. I'm curious as to which actress she was reading about (and which of the Potter actors was so bemused by this weird female practice). I also went and read the lyrics to Pink's "Stupid Girls." I may have to have a listen at some point, thereby breaking my longstanding habit of not listening to new music.

I don't talk much about girls' issues, mainly because I've OD'd on people being so concerned about girls that boys get neglected, but in this case, the issue of body image is such a big one. It's true that we have an obesity problem (and no mystery--our entire work culture changed from active to sedentary in far too short a time to adjust ingrained habits, including our unfortunate tendency to view portion sizes through the "bigger is better" lens), but we also have a depression problem and an eating disorder problem. Being fat has now become a lower class thing, because low-level jobs are data entry rather than physical, and physical activities have tended toward being premium services--joining gyms and climbing clubs and sports teams and hiring fitness trainers. Healthy food is also more expensive. Ergo, rich and thin are joined in consciousness, while being overweight is associated with being poor, or at least with not being rich.

Which explains the fashion, but doesn't get into more of the "stupid girl" stuff--doing things just to attract men, and so on.

First, let's be honest: There has never been a time in human history in any culture where young women on the whole aren't interested in attracting men. It's a biological imperative. And there've always been women for whom this is a primary aim. My grandmother grew up in the twenties and thirties, and has books worth of advice on the subject, including the immortal, "Oh, men like to feel like they know more than you do and are fascinating, so pretend you're interested in everything, but could never possibly understand it" and "It's always best to let the man think something's his idea, even though it's usually yours." :headdesk: And I'm sure boys have their own set of myths about how to attract girls. That's not going to change.

But it's a far cry to go from being concerned about attracting someone to starving yourself. For one thing, I've never met a guy who thinks anorexia is sexy. Thin, sure. Shapely. But shaped like a pre-pubescent boy? Sister, if your man is looking for a woman to look like a pre-pubescent boy, you've got bigger problems than whether or not the latest hot designers fit you.

I suppose I could lay some blame on the shifting sexual culture--where sex is readily available and fairly cheap, getting noticed takes more Herculean measures than it used to. There's also the issue of a lack of social milieux in which young people used to meet each other, which make looks the only way to find yourself in a conversation with a stranger. Those are two of my favorite hobby horses, but they don't explain everything. Why should hyper-skinniness, which is not attractive, be a point of competition? It's easy to say that it comes back to the wealth thing, but when you have all kinds of money, why not spend it on weight training machines that will give your body actual shape? And why don't we compete on other perks of wealth, like, say, fancy education and big job ambitions? (I mean, not that it's necessary to have an Ivy League degree to do well--I don't have one, after all, [Tufts voice]though of course I can do anything as well as any Harvard grad!!![/Tufts voice]--but if we're going to compete on status symbols related to wealth, why wouldn't fancy schools be on the hot list as much as fancy clothes?) It's not the work aspect, because the people who are crazy about dieting work very hard at it. Maybe it's that those are class things more than income things, and no one wants to be thought of as being part of that dreary "upper class," but everyone wants to have financial freedom.

I don't know. It annoys and puzzles me.

Boys are getting different, but equally bad, messages. Thugs and idiots are held up as the great images of what they're supposed to be. At least, thank God, they've started pulling their pants up again. But honestly, the fact that for years they were led to run around with their underwear showing... :shakes head:

I think, on the whole, that what the media needs to do is stop fetishizing stupidity and calling it "being authentic" or whatnot. Instead of taking every opportunity to show how dumb Kellie Pickler is, AI should try to keep it decently covered by not giving her so many opportunities to demonstrate that she doesn't even know they're ridiculing her. (I mean, I don't like her, but I felt just horrible for her last night when Ryan was doing the whole, "Are you really this dumb?" question and she's answering it seriously.) Because once you start insulting erudition and ambition, what you have left is avarice and body-obsession.

I got off track somewhere here, but I guess I said what I started out to say at some point in the rambling.
38 comments or Leave a comment
From: gunderpants Date: April 5th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you did bring up the class thing, because it really does play heavily into the stigma. Great rant.
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: April 5th, 2006 11:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
(and which of the Potter actors was so bemused by this weird female practice)

I would guess Dan. He's so adorably dorky.
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: April 5th, 2006 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
And that's a really good rant as well.
matril From: matril Date: April 5th, 2006 11:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Has anorexia ever existed before in any era of history before this one? Because it seems to be the weirdest, saddest thing - starving yourself to look like - well, like you're starving. I mean, how messed up does a culture have to be to produce a disorder like that? It just makes me sad. Whatever happened to healthy, full-figured people being considered the picture of health and vitality? Obesity is one thing - getting enough to eat is quite another.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 5th, 2006 11:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wiki says it goes back to Victorian era (which doesn't surprise me, given the obsession with the wasp waist). It probably has existed elsewhere as well, but like a lot of compulsive behaviors, it would tend to kick in when there's a lot of publicity as opposed to when their wasn't.
ladyvorkosigan From: ladyvorkosigan Date: April 6th, 2006 12:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you do see - well, not degrees as a status symbol that girls brag about - but as something girls strive for. I think a lot of girls who develop eating disorders really desperately try to be the "good" girl in all aspects of their lives. Get good grades, go to the right schools, be thin and attractive and well dressed, and don't be too loud or agressive or manly. And part of that last is that it's not acceptable to brag about where you go to school or what degree you have (Men drop the name Harvard in a bar to get dates; women hedge "Well, I go to school in Boston"). But thinness you don't brag about - it's visible and obvious without you having to do anything. And in a way, I think, part of eating disorders (for some people in some cases - there's no universals here, I don't think) are a rebellion: you want me to be good? I'll show you how far I can take it, and then you'll have to listen to me. But it's expressed physically rather than verbally. And it's always couched in terms that society not only finds acceptable but encourages up to ridiculous extremes - dieting and thinness (and note, a lot of anorexics report getting complements on losing weight right up to the time they're admitted to in-patient treatment programs).
aeljn From: aeljn Date: April 6th, 2006 12:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Stupid neutral colors for workplace carpeting are chosen for their much-vaunted ability to blend in with all furniture color schemes. Be glad you didn't get depressing grey. Until my library was remodeled in 2001, I was happy with the neglect that kept it overlooked when new ugly carpeting was chosen. For some reason, the library's carpet was a nice blend of blue and green. There was even a bloodstain [non-lurid, non-female reason, but I'm a big mystery fan so I loved having it].

Our house still has the same stupid shades of "gold" shag carpeting that came with it. If I had the money, I'd have it ripped out of my room and have a hardwood floor (treated to resist hairballs and cat vomit, of course). Carpets aren't good for people with allergies anyway.

As for women wanting to attract men, it's not just the biological imperative. Remember the pejorative term, "old maid"? I've run across another in Georgette Heyer's regency romances: "ape leader". I had no idea where that came from until I got a book of British ballads that quoted a line about old maids leading apes in hell.
It's much, much easier for even jerks to get wives if girls are reared to believe that being a never-married woman is a fate worse than death. I have a friend whose mother married her father only because she was afraid she'd never get married if she didn't.
I was lucky in that my parents had progressive ideas. To the end of her life, Mom never once asked me when I was going to be married. My younger sister and I were never taught the arts of flirting and husband catching. Both of our parents were just as adamant that my younger sister and I were going to college as they were about my younger brother. Dad even told the three of us that he'd disinherit us if we married before 25.

If you're not brainwashed into believing you have to have a "Mrs." on your tombstone, as the saying goes, it's no big deal to be 51 and never married.

I remember reading somewhere that ancient Rome was having a problem with young girls killing themselves rather than get married. I forget what the situation was that they preferred death to marriage, but instead of changing the problem, a law was passed that suicides would be paraded through the streets nude. They were trusting to girls' modesty.

I have a couple of old SF novels in the Edgar Rice Burroughs vein: TAMA OF THE LIGHT COUNTRY and TAMA OF MERCURY. It's been many years since I've read the Tama books, but if I remember correctly, only the women of Mercury had wings. Those wings were clipped when they married so the women couldn't fly anymore [could we get any more blatant with the symbolism?]. The virgins of Mercury were trying to end this cruel practice by refusing to marry. The nasty male Mercurians retaliated by starting to clip the wings of young girls once they reached marriageable age. I believe the Mercurians were kidnapping Earth women because we have no wings.

I've also read a theory that the obsession with being skeletal is a way of preoccupying women so we won't have energy left for more important things, but I don't know if I buy that.

On the other hand, I worry about young women who try to get their body fat at about 15% and really tight abs. The really tight abs aren't a problem if they don't get pregnant (the muscle fibers start separating as the pregnancy advances -- I remember a patient who had that happen to her). However, if a woman doesn't have enough body fat to keep her period going, she'd better get treated for that. That is, she will if she wants to avoid osteoporosis. Once that bone loss starts, she's got only three years to correct the problem before it's permanent.

Don't forget the skinny bodies with the breast implants. Yes, the figure that looks like a thin boy with severe bilateral gynecomastia is sooooo attractive, :-P (Loved your crack about a man looking for a woman who looks like a pre-pubescent boy.)

Didn't Miss Manners have advice on how to meet that special someone in her MISS MANNERS' GUIDE TO EXCRUCIATINGLY CORRECT BEHAVIOR?

I've seen the video for "Stupid Girls" and I LOVED it!!!!

Again, IIRC, boys and men are getting more self-conscious about body image, too. Sigh

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 6th, 2006 12:44 am (UTC) (Link)
I kind of wish I had gotten the art of flirting at some point--I also had a progressive mother (Grandma's admonitions were met with a family-wide rolling of the eyes), who has always been single (though not by choice) and as a result, I haven't the foggiest idea what I'm doing. I know I'm not interested in doing it Grandma's way, because it might attract the sort of man who likes that, but I'd desperately like to be married--I don't like being alone and definitely don't want to die childless--but have no place to meet anyone and pressure on lots of sides to just give in to being single. (After all, the odds of getting married past [fill in age here] are worse than [unlikely form of death of choice], and besides, haven't we concluded that men aren't necessary? Where's your liberated status??? ;) )

Men and boys are getting the "be a thug" message on about the same level as girls are getting the "be skinny" message, and girls are getting the "be a ho'" message about as much as boys are getting the body image one. And instead of any of these fading away into more worthy notions, all of them are being turned up in volume.

Sigh, indeed.
From: marciamarcia Date: April 6th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I have a feeling that the actress she's talking about is Kiera Knightly, who's not really anorexic looking...but is quite thin, has been on a lot of things recently, and tends to talk a lot about drinking lots of beer and scarfing down lots of food.

ladyvorkosigan From: ladyvorkosigan Date: April 6th, 2006 01:04 am (UTC) (Link)
I was guessing Lindsay Lohan but Kiera might make more sense in a British magazine. :-)
inkpenpaper From: inkpenpaper Date: April 6th, 2006 01:55 am (UTC) (Link)
My best friend in high school was bulimic. She is still recovering from it. For her, it was never about wanting to be skinny. It was about her body being the only thing she could 'control'. She was in a really bad situation at home (and still isn't allowed to come to uni, so she started throwing up.

I think anorexia is similiar. It's about control, even though the anorexic/ bulimic person ISN'T in control, they think they are. Which brings up another, worrying, trend in society. Why are so many young girls so anxious for control of their lives, and why do they feel so denied this control, that they stop eating, or stick fingers down throats?

Isn't this just as big a problem?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 6th, 2006 02:41 am (UTC) (Link)
It's an interesting thought, and I wonder if it's tied to our increasing over-protection and over-scheduling of all children. When kids were allowed a little more of a lead, allowed to ride bikes without helmets and climb trees and carry peanut butter sandwiches, there was less anorexia.
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lilacsigil From: lilacsigil Date: April 6th, 2006 02:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I find your comments on men not finding stick-thin girls attractive very interesting, because there seems to be a huge stigma attached to boys having a fat girlfriend, or even being attracted to a fat woman. Not to mention the extreme and rather disgusting prejudices against fat women (in particular, but men don't escape this).

I wonder if teenage girls, with their tendency to go to extremes, see adults and the media in general disparaging and stereotyping fat people, and assume that therefore any fat at all is a bad thing. The people most interested in the extremely thin seem to be teen girls, not teen boys or adult men.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 6th, 2006 02:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, fat, yes... that's not cool for them. But the ultra-skinny girls don't seem to get any more attention than the fat ones. (Actually, I spend a lot of time with black kids, and while attractively thin girls get the most attention, the overweight girls seem more popular than hyper-thin ones.)
sixth_light From: sixth_light Date: April 6th, 2006 02:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I think the modern obession with girls being thin is also quite closely related to control issues - certainly the teenage girls I know feel like if they gain a lot of weight, it's because they're failing to control themselves . They link it with being lazy. The trouble, of course, is that they have Stone Age biology combined with modern availability of food. Those control systems don't really exist.

Interestingly, there also exists a perception that anorexically thin women are an American pop culture problem above everything else (though I think JKR's rant proves that's not so.) On the TWoP forums recently, I read a discussion about the lead actress in a British show where an American said she he didn't think she was all that good-looking because she wasn't his type, and a bunch of others, mostly British, immediately descended on him and said "See those things called curves? In Britain, they're considered attractive on women." The actress in question is not overweight, but very different to Hollywood body types.

However, she also plays a lower-class character; if she was meant to be upper-class, I suspect she'd have been asked to lose some weight.

And why don't we compete on other perks of wealth, like, say, fancy education and big job ambitions?

Because the majority of teenage boys really are scared off by smart girls, so girls learn to not talk about their education. Believe me; I stayed completely boy-free for almost all my teenage years, not because I wanted to, but because when I did hit on boys I tended to forward my intelligence as a point of attraction. Bear in mind that these were not unintelligent guys; nevertheless, that caused them to back away. I still don't get why, but there you go.
doomandnachos From: doomandnachos Date: April 6th, 2006 04:16 am (UTC) (Link)
*grin* Let me guess: Billie Piper? I saw pictures on the BBC site, and immediately loved her because she looked like, well, a woman! :D
sea_thoughts From: sea_thoughts Date: April 6th, 2006 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Funnily enough, I was just thinking a similar thing last week. It used to be that skinny = poor because you didn't have enough to eat. Now skinny = rich because you have the time to actually exercise. Obese = poor because you don't have the money or the inclination (rather, the energy) to go out and exercise after working most of your day just trying to earn enough money to feed yourself and your family for the month. Physical exercise has become cool in the last century because of growing awareness about its connection to good health. It's no longer vulgar to sweat, just as it's no longer vulgar to be tanned (another turn around: being pale used to mean you were rich enough to stay indoors; now it means that you're too poor to have a holiday).

And Fern, don't you think it's fair that boys were allowed to show their underwear since girls seem to insist on showing their bra straps all the time? ;)
ani_bester From: ani_bester Date: April 6th, 2006 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
love your point about guys not liking the ubber skinny.
I mean seriously, I worked with guys and Lohan was THE BABE until she started loosing weight. Then there was a huge conversation about how much of a hag she looked like and that they wished she'd un-dye her hair and gain weight (weight though I think ofr guys means breasts and hips)

Which in terms reminds me of my boyfriend who is currently begging me not to loose weight, because it my normal weight of 25 lbs less than I am right now I'm an A-cup as opposed to the C-cup and he is very fond of the c-cup ^^

It's so bizzarre, the fashion industry, and they are aware of it, if you watch America's Top Model. Any girl with abudent curves is rejected as "too commercial."

I think they fashion industry is like modern art in that they want to use models with the most unrealistic body proportions ever, which in turn makes it harder to get a "pretty" photo, which in turn means they make they art, not they commercial add (and they are deluded, because last I checked, a heroine addict selling Dior is still commercial).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 6th, 2006 05:27 am (UTC) (Link)
That just makes my head hurt. Heh? We don't want to make our commercials too commercial? We'll blindly follow the skinny trend to prove we're not sheep?

I mean seriously, I worked with guys and Lohan was THE BABE until she started loosing weight. Then there was a huge conversation about how much of a hag she looked like and that they wished she'd un-dye her hair and gain weight (weight though I think ofr guys means breasts and hips)

It's interesting to get confirmation on that. I've also noticed that more guys seem to like the muscular and strong-looking Angelina Jolie than the over-skinny and sallow Jennifer Aniston, in that little dispute.

And in the other direction, I don't know many women who like these big muscle-bound men. Most women I know think men look better bulked down than built up to weightlifter-on-steroids proportions.
38 comments or Leave a comment