Media


Body Love Wellness has a very revealing interview with a Biggest Loser finalist here (Part 2 here, and some additional thoughts on the interview here). I think it is awesome that Golda got the straight story on this.

Whether to diet is a very personal decision, but I think it is bad news bears to make it dramatic enough to be a reality show–the kind of slow, moderate weight loss that people seem to agree is “healthy” (not that I personally am even particularly convinced of that, of course) does not exactly make good TV. Even worse now that clueless workplaces have weight loss competitions loosely based on this concept (my complaint being that–even if you buy into weight loss as a positive–it should never be a straight “competition” based on the scale because, since different people lose at different rates, that all but guarantees people will do stuff that is risky or ill-advised. Adults can do what they like with their own bodies, but feeling coerced to participate in a weight loss competition is not cool).

Individual fat people may be unhealthy, and I’m sure some individuals have benefited from The Biggest Loser. Statistically it seems likely enough, I guess. But it is by no means a given that any particular fat person is so unhealthy that it justifies overexercising in 90-degree heat, purging, diuretics, and a caloric intake so low that it is likely to screw up your metabolism for life. These things are a bad idea on principle, and fat people are being used as guinea pigs in a way that is very irresponsible. I am far from the first to make this observation, but I suppose something actually beneficial, like a HAES show, would be far less popular because fatties would be empowered, not punished.

I understand what it is like to want this badly to be thin, but The Biggest Loser just preys on that desire and feeds into viewers’ beliefs about fat people (all for entertainment value–it’s not like this is an altruistic venture designed to benefit humanity) in a way that is very distasteful to me.

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.

Wow… I thought I sort of liked Tony Kornheiser, not that I know a whole lot about him, but this is ridiculous. It’s just so… funny, I suppose, that the system that gives rise to women in sports reporting wearing more provocative or at least “cute” clothing (which, not that I care, but I think the outfit she is wearing looks fine), while men wear the typical no-brainer suit uniform, also allows men to judge out loud whether their colleagues are being compliant enough with said system. (Wear frumpy clothes and you don’t get noticed, but go “too far” the other way and people feel free to make fun of you for being “old” and pathetic.) I mean, sure, you might see a sports analyst joking about another guy’s loud suit but I think we all know that would have a far different tone. Why… it’s almost like this is a no-win situation for women or something.

Of course, this is what happens when we have 24-hour news and people have to think of stuff to say to fill the time. Eventually they are going to say something stupid and usually it’s something that reflects their true colors.

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.

My local public radio station posted this photo essay to accompany a current reporting series on the “obesity crisis” in Michigan (Personally, I think we have other crises that are more important right now, but why not scapegoat fat people to make ourselves feel better in the meantime?). The series is called “What We Eat” (make of that what you will) and starts airing this afternoon, so you will probably be able to check the web site after that for segments that have aired, if you are interested.

Michigan Radio posted a Facebook update about the photo essay today, so if you have any additional feedback after viewing the photos, feel free to add it to their comments. (Right now it is the top update on their page, but you may have to scroll down as I can’t figure out how to link to the update directly.) I did my best, but I tend to rant and rave rather than stay on message. I also commented in this earlier thread, and I have to say there are a lot of comments there that I liked (even the one person who is all “every fat person I have known has made terrible choices, IT’S SCIENCE” is not 100% unreasonable). I really wish I had mentioned Kate’s name in that thread in case they take it into their heads to actually do an FA interview. Maybe I will go do that now, even though it is probably too late.

So anyway, I thought we could use the photo essay to play a fun little game called “spot the fat hate/fat stereotypes.” I have a lot of ideas about this, but I will post just one–see how in the first photo, the overflowing trash can is front and center, perpetuating the idea that fat people are destroying the environment with our greed and wastefulness? What other anti-fat ideas do you see embodied in these photos?

Michigan Radio posted this inspiring story to Facebook today. It may be easier and more fun for those who don’t live here to presume that Detroit is an irredeemable dump, that our work force is lazy, entitled, and uneducated, and all the other crap I hear on a daily basis. But there are a lot of people here proving those perceptions wrong.

Here’s another account of an out-of-state company looking to Michigan to meet its needs for production of green energy components, and a story about some Detroit residents who are opening businesses and artistic ventures in the city (Slows Bar-B-Q, referenced in the article, is an amazing restaurant).

…the problems with Glee? Yes, it’s entertaining (I’m giving it another couple of episodes in the hope that it will settle some of its issues, because I enjoy the singing, the show’s potential, and the school setting), but so far it’s also pretty sexist. Beyond that, very few of the characters are remotely likable (the exceptions for me are the main female character, Rachel Berry; the teacher, Will Schuester, who is so bland and inoffensive that it is hard to have an opinion about him one way or the other; the principal; and cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, at least for the roughly 30% of the time when the incomparable Jane Lynch is spouting hilariously demented lines rather than filling up a feminist stereotype bingo card). It’s like the show’s creator hates the entire cast in addition to hating all women everywhere.

Here are a few of the sexist characters, tropes, and images I noticed in the last couple of episodes:

  • Mr. Schuester’s wife, Terri, is a lazy, whiny, entitled princess who thinks she’s put-upon for having to work part-time at a Sheets-‘n-Things store. She is also stupid, as evidenced by her “hysterical pregnancy.” Oh, the hilarity! In general, she seems to exist to fulfill the belief that your wife really is naggy and evil and out to take all your money, whereas you are a saint with the patience of Job, and furthermore the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence where that cuter younger model whose only apparent personality trait is quirkiness resides. By the way, when I was trying to find this character’s name, I came across a forum link with a discussion thread entitled “Anyone else can’t stand Terri?” Um, I highly doubt you’re supposed to like her. The one glimmer of hope I see for Terri is that she appears to realize at the end of the most recent episode that lying about her pregnancy was wrong, but was so scared she didn’t see another alternative. A true cardboard cutout would have been totally fine with the lie.
  • Which brings me to Terri’s sister, another flat stereotype whose husband is afraid to go to the bathroom without permission, who eggs Terri on to purchase an elaborate McMansion that they can’t afford (side note: their “inadequate” apartment appears to contain a giant clawfoot tub in a beautifully restored bathroom–WTF?), perpetuates the “wives and mothers are lazy spoiled princesses” trope again by admonishing Terri not to give up her “craft room” for a nursery in a mockery of the concept that stressed-out moms should dare have any outlet for themselves, and encourages her to continue lying to her husband about the mistaken pregnancy. This character is like all of the most hateful assumptions about women distilled into one person.
  • Sue is hilarious and in many ways a joy to watch, as Jane Lynch always is. But they also write self-important lines for the character that are intended to show the hilarity and ridiculousness that is feminism–murmuring “offensive” to the phrase “cock of the walk,” lashing out that she doesn’t want to be treated like a second-class citizen because of her gender when gender wasn’t really part of the discussion. This should all be just super for coddling and justifying complacent viewers’ misinformed beliefs about what “feminists are like.” Of course there is a line that reveals Sue to be post-menopausal as well, because it wouldn’t do to portray a character like her as anything other than man-hating, “dried up,” and desexualized (though the show also could have gone with “‘scary’ butch lesbian”).
  • Emma, the school’s guidance counselor, has the potential to be an interesting character, so I will reserve judgment on her for now (though I don’t like the general idea of the tiny, pure, perfect ingenue who often appears on TV and in film and is always just so much more appealing than the ol’ ball and chain), but in a really gross line from last week’s show, she advises Rachel that not having a gag reflex will be a boon to her “later in life.” This line veers just a little too close to “rape is funny” for my comfort–it assumes that oral sex is de facto uncomfortable and unpleasant for women, but something that you are simply required to buck up and do anyway. Ick.
  • Speaking of which, the show’s mean girls belong to an abstinence club where they scheme behind closed doors about how to exert power over boys by denying them sex. This scene, to me, seemed designed to show that women really are controlling, cold bitches who deserve what they get. Later, when the boys and girls were attempting to interact “chastely,” one of the boy characters simulates grinding and yells “c’mon, take it!” in a throwaway line. This is what immediately jumps to mind when the writers think of sex–for women, it’s a mind game, and for men, it’s a push to dominate against a woman’s will? To me, that’s kind of depressing.
  • A wimpy, sexually frustrated male character who appeared to be portrayed as something of a Jewish stereotype was another tiresome addition to this scene. Come to that, the show’s creator appears to be none too fond of men either–a fired choir director is a druggie pedophile who harasses his students, and previews showed a presumably gay choreographer who appears to be played as a fat, bitchy, irrational, pathetic figure of fun in eyeliner. (Note that I obviously don’t think “fat” or any of those other features are negative characteristics, but you can bet this show probably does.)

Finally, the way the show’s ensemble is set up is fairly ridiculous. OK, to be fair, many TV shows contain a white character or couple around which the entire plot revolves, with a supporting group of minority characters who exist mainly to make the cast look “diverse,” but sometimes attempts are made to alter this structure or present it in a more subtle manner. Not on Glee! Nope–you have the patented characters of black girl, gay guy, Asian girl, and disabled guy all literally backing up the white main character and leading man. Furthermore, it would seem that Rachel’s dark hair is meant to symbolize her status as unpopular misfit (in opposition to her blonde head-cheerleader nemesis)–never mind that she is still white, thin, pretty, and otherwise TV-perfect in every way–so the show doesn’t really even break the mold that the golden girl or couple must always be not only white but blond to boot.

The black singer’s personality seems to consist entirely of “loud diva,” and the rest of the characters have not really been given personalities to speak of yet. I suppose they could be playing this structure so blatantly as a means of satirizing the white-lead/minority-supporting-cast structure, but personally, I am not really seeing that.

In any case, this show is on probation for me. Treating the characters like actual human beings deserving of a baseline level of respect would go a long way toward helping the show live up to its own hype, in my opinion.

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