Beauty


Remember how I was praising Women’s Running magazine a while back for what I thought was its breath-of-fresh-air approach to body size and diet, and balanced, technical focus? As we all know, most women’s magazines (and other magazines and web sites, let’s be honest, especially if they are fitness-related… I had to de-fan Cool Running on Facebook because 90% of what they posted was inane diet tips… too bad, since they have some great training plans and other information when they are not catering to the lowest common denominator) focus way too much on dieting, fashion, and beauty, and every other topic is covered so superficially that you might as well just read those self-published “informational” “articles” that seem to clog up my every Google search these days.

Well, so I asked for a subscription for Christmas. The complimentary copy I picked up at the Detroit Free Press Marathon expo was thin and boring, but I hoped they were maybe just having an off month. But 3 or 4 months after my mom ordered the gift subscription for me, I finally received my first issue, and I fear that instead my first impression was just plain wrong. There are 5 cover blurbs, and 3 of them are:

  • Run Your Way to Lasting Weight Loss! (this is of course the first and largest item)
  • 16 Flirty & Fun Running Skirts and Dresses
  • Build a Strong Core (whatever the content of the actual piece, including this type of thing on the cover is lady code for “get a flat sexy tummy!” in my experience)

Hmm.

Inside we find the following:

1) A roundup of races that “entertain you on and off the course,” including the SkirtChaser 5k. The copy says “Women runners tease their male competitors in athletic skirts as they get a friendly three-minute head start.” Post-race entertainment includes a “sexy DriLex fashion show.” I have heard of this race series before, and EWWWWW. How about I run a “race” where I deliberately position myself so men can ogle my ass, then reinforce imagery of a group of guys chasing down women in “tantalizing” clothing. Granted the existence of this creepy event is not the magazine’s fault.

2) A whole article entitled “Secrets to Healthy Hair” (???)

3) The promised weight-loss article, which features a hypothyroid woman who lost 130 lbs. from a starting weight (during pregnancy, though) of 260. Her endocrinologist “advised her that because her metabolism was so sluggish, she would need to double what other people do to lose weight.” As a result, she started walking for 2 HOURS every morning PLUS 1 hour every night, and now runs 8-10 miles per day with strength training 3 times a week. Her meal plan is listed as “oatmeal with ground flaxseed, walnuts, and blueberries” for breakfast, “turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, onion and mustard on sprouted whole-grain bread” for lunch, yogurt for a snack, “lean protein like chicken or fish, vegetables, and a salad” for dinner, and a “special indulgence” of ICED COFFEE. People, iced coffee does not contain any calories.

My rough calculations put this daily menu at about 1150 calories (and that’s assuming she eats regular yogurt and full-fat salad dressing, which I doubt). Now, I realize we all eat different amounts, and the diet of many readers here may resemble this description. I don’t judge individual food choices. But once you publish something like this in a magazine article, it becomes less of a personal choice and more of a “recommendation,” and I hope we can agree that this level of intake is not, on average, reasonable or adequate for many sedentary people, let alone someone this active. Mainly this irritates me because it seems that her endo may be a candidate for First, Do No Harm–I have no idea what they tried in terms of medication, but telling someone they will just have to suck it up and do twice as much as everyone else, case closed, is never a good sign as far as I am concerned. The folks here do not, by and large, care for endos, and although I am sure there are many great ones out there, this is another data point on the negative side of the ledger AFAIC.

4) An article with some yummy-looking recipes, but with an intro that states “Women runners seem to have a natural aversion to the C word [carbs]. For many of us, consuming the usual carbs (think pasta and potatoes) seems like a bad idea when trying to lose weight and eat better.” Leaving aside that the article is written by a man, so what’s with the chummy “just us girls” tone, why are “we” assumed to be trying to lose weight at all times? Aren’t we mainly just trying to become better runners? I can get as much of this crap as I want from Good Housekeeping or Cosmo, so I fail to see why I should pay for a running magazine that feels similar in content.

To be fair, there is some good stuff in there too, including a sprint triathlon training plan for beginners, an article on vegetarianism that does not promote weight loss, a list of top trail running destinations that includes Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (woo hoo!), and a heart-rate-based training plan that I actually want to study further… it looks similar to the low-heart-rate plans I am aware of, but with some additional interesting information. But on the whole I was disappointed. I’ll keep reading the new issues as they come in, of course, but I can’t in good conscience renew my subscription if there is going to be this much weight-loss dreck.

The size and somewhat amateurish feel of the magazine tells me that it may not be doing that well anyway, so perhaps I will not have to make that choice. If my beloved Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion can go under (they filled out my subscription with Martha Stewart Living, which I have no specific issue (ha!) with, but it’s no MEHC) then I guess I won’t shed as much of a tear for Women’s Running should it suffer the same fate.

On that note, time to head out for a run! I have a race in 3 weeks that I am not as prepared for as I’d like to be.

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Robin Givhan, in an NPR interview this morning about the ongoing controversy over very thin models and the rise (such as it is) of plus-size models, basically said that the fashion industry needs to strike a balance between very thin models and the promotion of obesity. Um, I don’t really think we’re there yet considering plus-size models are still a rare novelty, and are almost all normal-weight by BMI anyway. She helped us feel the pain of magazine editors who have to use teeny models in order to fit the sample sizes but would TOTALLY be using more average models if they could! 😛 I know I definitely weep for these noble but downtrodden editors. As you can imagine, I was feeling just great and completely calm by the end of this segment. I especially love the part where she comments:

On the other hand, there’s the unhealthy nature of obesity and the politically correct aspect of saying, ‘You should be happy with who you are,’ she said.

Note that on the air, she said all of these words, not just the ones in quotes. I love when people invoke political correctness. And since when is it “politically correct” to let obese people (who, and I feel like I will probably repeat this about 80 more times in this post, are NOT ACTUALLY REPRESENTED in mainstream high fashion anyway) off the hook for being themselves anyway?

She was being interviewed because she wrote a fairly condescending article on this subject. Here are some of my thoughts.

1) In my opinion, the article is kind of badly written. No point that is made seems to follow logically from the previous point.

2)

It would be a welcome relief if the majority of those designers who put their wares on the runway in the coming months took a stand and refused to use models whose ribs are plainly visible and whose countenance cries ‘ill-health.’ What is the point of creeping out consumers, after all?

Screw you, lady, you have no idea if those models are healthy, nor is it any of your business, and how exactly does ridiculing any group of women for their bodies help? Or, since I’m a paranoid type, are you just trying to dishonestly present what you think might be the ungracious viewpoint of jealous fatties?

3)

How big is big enough? And when does plus size, in a profoundly overweight population, become just as distressingly unhealthy an image as emaciation?

I am PRETTY SURE we are NOT CLOSE to having to worry about this with regard to runway models.

4)

The star of the issue is arguably the model Crystal Renn, who captures the same air of detached, unattainable glamour as any size 0, perhaps even more so because Renn is classically pretty rather than startlingly odd.

Renn is indeed “classically pretty,” and therefore not exactly a representation of “average”… but which models are supposed to be “startlingly odd”? All other plus-size models or all standard-size models? What the heck are you talking about? (Amusingly, though I like it–reminds me of fairies and spring–Renn’s look is indeed a little on the “odd” side in the photo that accompanies the article.)

5)

Just how big does a model have to be before folks are satisfied that she represents some ever-shifting vision of what a ‘real’ woman looks like? Must she be precisely 5-feet-4 and a size 14, which is the fashion industry’s accepted stats for the average woman? And if she is, will that transform the fantasy photographs in fashion magazines into the equivalent of catalogues? After all, a large part of our fascination with Hollywood is because it’s populated with absurdly stunning men and women…

Yawn. Nobody has ever argued that every model should be exactly “average.” And if the goal is promoting general good health in the population (which of course it is not, which is why all of these arguments seem pointless if you think about them for half a second), body type should not be something to “aspire” to. (Note, I realize physique competitors aspire to a certain body shape, and that is fine, but although they are probably indeed very healthy, fine-tuning their bodies to meet stringent shape and size requirements does not by and large make them more so.)

Health, on the other hand, may be something to aspire to if you want to. But the idea that the noble fashion industry carries the torch for promoting good health is just… I have no idea what to say to this ridiculous self-righteous notion. Also note the “aspirational” argument that constantly gets trotted out (to be fair, it is not exactly her fault because EVERYONE who is on the defensive about thin models says this and doesn’t seem to consider that it is kind of disturbing. “Yes, we admit that some models are starving themselves to achieve this look, and that’s bad! But the look itself is harmless because women know it’s supposed to be ASPIRATIONAL, not real!” Without regard to the implication of why a look they know average women would have to starve themselves to achieve should be “aspired” to).

6)

And the lesson to designers is that all sorts of women can make their clothes look good. Attitude often counts more than body size. Although, there are certainly times when no matter how good you think you look, reality tells another story. See: Mariah Carey at the Golden Globes.

Don’t get above yourself, ladies! You might think you look good but that just means you need to be taken down a peg until you hate yourself again. See the next point: I guess part of an “inclusive” definition of beauty is tearing down other women. Good to know nothing ever really changes.

7)

Somewhere between emaciation and obesity lies good health. And somewhere between those extremes there is also a definition of beauty that is inclusive, sound and honest.

Yes, it is clear that you love all women and just want to be inclusive. Or that you spend very little time considering me as an obese person (I imagine that very few of our inconveniently large butts cross Givhan’s line of sight in the average work day), but think of me as more of a public health crisis than a human being, if I did happen to cross your mind. It’s so hard to tell.

Look, “good health” may encompass both “emaciation” and “obesity”–you don’t know by looking. Also, I cannot stress enough that “obesity” is basically never seen on ANY runway at this point in time, and on the one or two occasions when it has been, it has been a novelty where the entire point of the show is the model’s obesity. It’s not like we’re seeing those “unhealthy” size 24s (or even 16s) step out on the average runway without comment on a regular basis. Givhan is getting freaked out about something that will probably never happen in my lifetime, and acting as if it is happening now.

The take-home I am hearing is that it freaks her out that the UNHEALTHY FATTIES (again, like anyone in the fashion industry gives a rip about health anyway… if the ideal were 300 lbs. they would be force-feeding people to get it) might be taking over the runway, which would obviously be a CATASTROPHE. Don’t worry, though, Robin… I think you are safe for the time being.

Check out this article, linked by closetpuritan at Shapely Prose, and this paper, linked by Ang on the same thread. Even some of our most closely held beliefs about what is “innate” in terms of attraction are open to question.

Anyone who is still willing to claim at this point that preferences for mates who are thin (tall, “proportionate,” etc. etc.) are hardwired and immutable since time immemorial must simply enjoy reveling in their own ignorance (note, this is NOT me saying that there aren’t biological underpinnings for why we select mates, or even that it might not be interesting for researchers to look into this… it’s just that it is NOT SCIENCE to look at societal preferences or your own personal preference and then go digging around for reasons why these preferences must be “hardwired”). I can see no other explanation.

I will try to head off one tiresome line of argument by saying that the idea that we think everyone should be forced to be attracted to fat women is a straw nonstarter. Still, it is hilarious how often this claim comes up in discussions about mate preference. It has been said many times before, but I don’t care who you want to sleep with, OK? I actually don’t want to sleep with you if you aren’t into me. I just don’t want you to make up fake science about why your preferences are “correct.” The concept of preferences being “correct” is nonsensical anyway.

How hard is it to make a lip balm with an SPF rating of at least 15–and preferably 30 or higher–that has adequate UVA protection (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or avobenzone) and does not contain a) useless irritating crap (“soothing” mint, ginger, etc. etc. etc.) that is supposed to be a positive feature but actually does nothing but cause you to use more and more of the product because of the irritation, b) ridiculous and nauseating saccharine-based tropical, fruit, or other “flavors,” as I neither need nor wish to eat my lip balm (DO YOU HEAR ME, BLISTEX? I WILL NEVER BUY YOUR PRODUCTS AGAIN), or (and I’m really reaching now), c) parabens, phenols or other commonly allergenic/irritating ingredients? I’m not even ASKING for things like antioxidants and whatnot, or specialized solutions like a vegan option for my friend who is allergic to beeswax.

You should be able to find something like this in the drugstore for a couple of bucks with no problem whatsoever. Meanwhile I do internet searches and largely fail to find anything that is halfway suitable, if the manufacturer deigns to allow even drugstore.com to post the full ingredient list, never mind rinky-dink sites that don’t post ANY of the ingredients for otherwise-promising products. (Hint: If you say “SPF 15” but do not tell me what is in the product, I do not believe you and will never buy your product. If you demonstrate that the product does have SPF 15 but only provide the absolute minimum of information allowed by law as regards the remaining ingredients, I get mad and will never buy your product.) Also, you really hate to pay shipping on A LIP BALM that you have to order online.

I feel like advancements in science and consumers becoming more savvy, largely due to watchdogs like Paula Begoun and knowledgeable users of internet communities such as acne.org, have greatly improved the quality of sunscreen lotions in recent years–you rarely find one anymore that doesn’t have UVA protection, many options are fragrance-free, you can get antioxidants and anti-irritants in even some inexpensive products, and therefore I have a large selection to choose from these days when trying to pick a sunscreen that works with my sensitive, acne-prone skin. Lip products, however, seem to still be in this 30-years-ago snake oil phase where they tell you something does something but don’t reveal what is in it or how it is supposed to work, and instead continue to use outdated formulations and load them up with non-functional ingredients that “tingle” (so you’ll think the product is doing something, I guess) and heavy fragrances. I hate it when consumer-products companies treat me like I’m stupid.

(Speaking of Paula, I generally love her products, but the Moisturizing Lipscreen SPF 15 is a rare total fail for me. It is super-white and therefore makes me look like a clown, and is really soft and messy. The Sheer Cream Lipstick SPF 15, on the other hand, is a great product and comes in a colorless version, but considering how much of the stuff I go through–I had some dark spots on my lips biopsied some years ago that seemed to be sun damage, so I am now paranoid about lip protection, and I spend a lot of time outside running and doing yard work–I hate to pay that kind of money for such a small amount. I guess rewarding the only company that doesn’t seem to regard me as a complete clueless sucker is probably the right thing to do, though.)