Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fat and Image and Money

I just read a post on Big Fat Deal that got me thinking. In the article they quote the writer says:

You know that whole thing about how being superskinny is an ideal originated by the fashion industry and perpetuated by female competitiveness and like, totally NOT AT ALL what men are interested in etc. etc.? Well that’s bullshit, says a story in the March Elle by Amanda Fortini, a 5′6 woman who dropped to 100 pounds a few years back.
Then she goes on to remark on how many men hit on her. As the commenters to the post point out, she was in a niche group of people - wealthy New Yorkers - during her experience. Generally, though, I think it's safe to say that many, many men will find the skinnier woman in the room attractive. Many, many white men at least (and this includes my husband).*

But I wonder how much of this is a chicken and the egg type of thing. Sure, most guys seem to like the thin girls, but is that because of a natural inclination, or because for the past 40+ years we've had images of super skinny women slammed in our collective face as the ideal, and look at how beautiful she is and don't we want to be just like her with our hips and collarbones poking out like they could cut us? If you look at movies or art from much of the time before that, the ideal beautiful woman was shapely and curvy. Sometimes flat out fat. I often think of a movie I saw several years ago that was filmed in the late 1950's The main character's boss was having an affair with his secretary, the office bombshell. She was pretty outrageous looking even for the 50's and had very large hips, very large breasts, a huge a** and a tiny waist (well, compared to her hips at least). The boss was sleeping with her and all of the men salivated as she walked by. Today that actress would just be cast as the funny fat friend.

So I do think that media plays a role in determining what is "attractive" and I don't think an anecdotal story about how a woman who lot of weight right now got hit on a lot proves anything about men's natural inclinations because of course she got hit on a lot, she lost a lot of weight in 2008, following years of everyone being told that skinny, dangerously super skinny, is where it's at. Would everyone have had feathered hair if not for Farrah Fawcett? Probably not.

However, there's a lot more at play here than the media, in my opinion, although I do think the media perpetuates the ideal. Maybe it has more to do with thinness being a sign of social status nowadays. Fat people are seen by some as dirty, slovenly and often poor. It's a fact: veggies cost more than processed food. Being super skinny proves that you can eat super healthy and/or work out with a trainer several hours a day. Who has time to do that but independently wealthy people? Not so in, say, the 17th century, when plump, nay, fat was beautiful and ideal because it meant you had a lot of money to spend on food and didn't waste it all away by working in the fields or cleaning houses or the like. The term "Rubenesque" comes from paintings like this one, after all

"The Three Graces" painted by Peter Paul Rubens in the 1630's.

So maybe the obsession with thin says more about materialism than we might think. Another post I read earlier (Can't remember where, sorry) discusses how during a conversation about the ideal trophy wife or husband, the men agreed that the trophy wife would be a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover model, while the women agreed the trophy husband would be someone like the creator of Google. The point of that post was that the trophy woman was all about looks while the trophy man was all about money. I would argue they're both about money, just in different ways.

Anyway, just thinking...

*I hope this doesn't come across as racist in any way, but in my 20 or so years of being bootylicious, I always got many more appreciative looks from black and Hispanic men. I always thought I wouldn't wind up with a white man because when I was younger they never really appreciated my curves (kind of like I never thought I would actually manage to marry a Mormon with my liberal views. Go figure).

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