Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mixed Messages

In a Details magazine feature, entitled, “Why Fat Is Back in Hollywood,” writer Holly Millea discusses how the super-thin look is slowly being countered by a curvy, more feminine look, reminiscent of old Hollywood and pin-up stars. Millea offers Catherine Zeta-Jones, Scarlett Johansson, and Drew Barrymore as evidence. Even Rachel Weisz, Lost star Evangeline Lilly, and Mandy Moore are thrown in the mix.

But, let’s take a step back. These women are so far from “fat,” that I’m afraid they’ve landed in the wrong article. Rachel Weisz might only be described as “curvy” when with child, Evalengline Lilly is as athletic and toned as they come, and Mandy Moore is. . . Mandy Moore. Are we that skewed that these women are the only ones we can identify as “fat”? (The answer is “yes,” I’m afraid.)

Millea makes some interesting points and challenges us to confront the status-quo assumption of thinner-is-better. She asks, “Seriously, would you prefer to get a Grey’s Anatomy lesson from an hourglassed Katherine Heigl or a reedy Ellen Pompeo?” Point taken, but even here, we can’t look at their bodies without objectifying them, without bringing it back to sex. There’s no beating around the bush here:
You see that look in the faces of formerly fleshy sexpots who have morphed into pinched, prematurely aged superwaifs. What do they do for fun? Food and sex are appetites inextricably linked in the human psyche. One could speculate that for those obsessed with not eating, even the boyfriend’s salami goes the way of the bread basket.
The message? Don’t starve yourself down, not because it isn’t healthy or because it irreparably damages your psyche and your will to live or even because it sets up an (often deadly) unrealistic standard for your fans, but because it’s just (shoulders raised) not so sexy. Hit ‘em where it hurts, and, maybe, we’ll tackle some ground.

Hillea realizes the difficulty of positing a world taken over by the “lush,” “curvy,” forms of Johanssen and Zeta-Jones (now that we’re on the topic, are they really larger than a Size 6?):

Of course, it’s easy for anyone who isn’t an aspiring actress to beat the drum for weight gain. Our careers don’t depend on being a jean size smaller than the next girl. As one male studio executive who asked not to be named says, “Do we really want stars to look like the rest of us? If actresses represented the way the public really looks, the mother from Gilbert Grape would be a sex symbol.”
It seems that that’s the ultimate fear—if we accept Drew Barrymore as body-beautiful, then we’re just a couple of steps away from accepting obesity (in others and ourselves). Not to mention the fact that 500-pound Bonnie Grape is no more representative of her public constituents than Kate Bosworth, Nicole Richie, or the shrinking Keira Knightley.

I’m always interested in journalism that confronts body stereotypes, and the premise here is pure. Even the article’s subtitle, “In an industry rife with painfully thin stick figures, women with some meat on their bones are—lucky for us—rising to the top” offers a respectable purpose and heralds writing I’d like to read. But, sprinkled with not-so-fat celebrity examples, black-and-white thinking (see quote above), and an accompanying graphic (see below) that all but refutes anything said, the take-home message is confusing and elusive at best.


Jennifer said...

I'm constantly frustrated by these rather ridiculous attempts by the media to identify truly thin celebrities as mainstream American women. Who do they think they're kidding?! As you so aptly pointed out, these women are, at best, a size 6. And didn't I just read somewhere that the average woman in America is now a size 14?! While their attempts are noble, they are still miserably missing the mark. I rest my case...

ps22 said...

"the take-home message is confusing and elusive at best."
Ahhh....Dr. S, can't you be writing for these magazines instead? This article would have been so much better - from a sociological, cultural, and literary standpoint - if the author had recognized and confronted this very point that you have noticed.

The black-and-white thinking and comparison using the actress from Gilbert Grape ....who if I recall, was an actual woman who was discovered because of her participation in talk show about her struggles with weight? just plain appalling. And in a petty moment, that comment and this article does nothing to refute the stereotype that people in Hollywood are air-brained, stupid idiots. Once problem with Hollywood. They try to promote themselves as liberal, progressive, reformers - the people on the forefront of social movement. But yet, comments such as these continue to reflect that all they care about is the bottom line and maintaining celebrity elitism, while trying to play it off as "that's what the American people want."

PalmTreeChick said...

Yes, I just read an article the other day which said that in 1950 the average dress size was a size 8, now the average is a size 14.

It's kind of ironic that the obesity epidemic is on the rise, (I'm NOT calling size 14 obese or even overweight for that matter) and so are the number of people, mostly females, developing eating disorders. It's almost like there is no happy medium, just one extreme or the other.

Good post, even though my response was off topic.

littlem said...

So size 6 is the new fat?

Stanley Tucci said in Streep's "Devil Wears Prada" that 6 is the new 14.


One of these days I'm going to revolt and shout in the middle of Madison Avenue, "well then I'm just going to have to be FAT!!!!"

Give me a basic blessed break.

littlem said...

Plus, you know what? It's Details, a men's magazine, for men who are obsessed with women's bodies anyway (I can't imagine that the Details target demo is generally a terribly enlightened bunch).

A pox on that writer Millea, though, unless she's just trying to make the rent.

PS22, as usual IMO you've nailed it.

Donna said...

Goodness -- I gave up reading after the writer offered Caterine Zeta Jones and Drew Barrymore as being fat... pahlease!

stephanie said...

Prefacing to say, this is completely egocentric. Feel free to ignore it if you so choose, for being non relevant.

I recently, after finishing therapy, gave up diet pills. I'br been taking ephedra, off and on, in one form or another, for the past four years (not really when illegal, but as soon as the ban was lifted.)

The first time I tried this, I completely freaked out, had bouts with anxiety, my therapist told me to give myself permission to start using them again.

It's been 5 weeks since I've taken one pill. Which is awesome. But, I've entered military mode in terms of what I eat.

1/4 cup Cottage cheese with 2 wasa crisps, OR, egg white omelette with f/f cheese for breakfast.

salad with cukes, tomatoes, 3 slices of roasted turkey and f/f cheese & f/f dressing for lunch

lean protein for dinner (usually chicken breast w/salsa)

My question - I'm very happy with what's going on right now, I'm at the weight I want to be at, I'm not taking pills, and I feel in control... Am I setting up a false positive here, because there's no way I can live like this? (I have been out to dinner, and just eat, and then go back to the routine the next day.)

*Sorry for the long, ass comment, that wasn't really relevant...

Beth said...

Steph- Great for giving up those nasty suckers! I'm still off and on them. At least you're eating, but keep eating, and you are lucky to not be throwing up. Try slowly adding in some fat in order to absorb more vitamins. Lo fat, not FF dressing, organic bars, avacado, etc. Your body WILL rebel with out the fat and eventually store anything you eat when you dine out or go overboard, so try to mix it up a little.
About the posting, haven't we all read this Details article numerous times before? It seems that relentlessly, they report over shrinking stars, then a few mags come out with the novelty of "curvy is in again!" Back and forth.... I don't think much has changed in the past decade, other than the media's spin on reporting it. While I'm ashamed to admit I like looking at pics of Nicole Richie, I think Scarlett is super sexy AND rather thin, and these women just have to keep their bodies one of their main priorities in life. Wouldn't you much rather read an article about one of the stars sharing her knowledge of another culture or their favorite class they took in college? If they spent less time vacationing and more time seeing the less glamourous (common) areas of the world, perhaps we would have better articles to read.

survivorfreek said...

eek, guys are under pressure to go 'lean and defined' too, and to get the abs out, you would need less than 10% body fat.

stephanie said...

Thanks Beth!

And I'll take the advice :)

Good luck to you!!

drstaceyny said...

Jennifer--that's right, a 14. . .

ps--well said, once again.

ptc--interesting point abt the extremes, highlighting how it's all related at some level.

lm--let me know when you're going! And to your 2nd point, true, true. . .


stephanie--non-relevance welcome. . . I think there are two separate issues here--nutritional and psychological. Beth touched on the nutritional piece, but I'd also recommend a consult with a nutritionist, if you haven't done so already in order to make sure you're getting enough nutrients, particularly with regard to variety.

As for the psychological piece, some interesting questions are raised: Are you hungry? Do you find yourself wanting more? Do you feel in control of your eating, or that a little part of you is controlling the rest of you? (does that make sense?) Can you enjoy your meals out? Is the "military mode" you mentioned affecting your functioning in any other way? And, finally, are you sending yourself an (insidious) message that you don't need/deserve anymore? Just some stuff for you to think about.

Most important, though, I'm happy to hear you're off the pills, as I've heard to many horror stories abt (particularly) cardiovascular consequences. If it requires some rigidity at this point, so be it. What you're eating today isn't set in stone, and you have the sense to pose an interesting question and think abt this in a flexible manner.

beth--those sound like good suggestions (not just b/c we don't want our bodies to "rebel" by gaining weight, but b/c it's important to have fat and the vitamins that usually come with fatty foods). I agree with your 2nd paragraph, but just imagine how the economy of St. Tropez would suffer!

sf--you're right, it's not just a "female thing." Stay tuned for the sequel. ; )

stephanie said...

Dr. S, thanks so much for the reply. I will definitely look into a consult with a nutritionist.

In answer to your questions...

I'm hungry sometimes, but I don't want to snack inbetween meals, because that has always been a downfall to healthy eating for me. I have allowed myself slightly more leeway in terms of going out to dinner (had dessert on tuesday nite at olives, it was delish :) I want to think I'm having the control over my eating, but I guess I'm worried it's controlling me. But I'm definitely not sending myself messages that I don't deserve more. Going thru intensive therapy has shown me how to stop doing that, and I'm at a really good place mentally in that regards.

As you said, definitely stuff for me to think about.

Thank you. I totally appreciate your time :)