“The most beautiful girl in the world would be completely picked apart”

Behold! The Queen of the Fat-o-sphere and the, uh, Fairy Princess of Plus-Size Modeling have combined powers! Kate interviews the lovely Crystal Renn for Salon. They talk about eating disorders, the treatment of models, and Crystal’s new book (cowritten by Marjorie Ingall, who delurked here recently — hi Marjorie!). It’s a terrific interview, and I for one am delighted to hear what Crystal Renn has to say, so we can put a voice to that gorgeous face.

100 thoughts on ““The most beautiful girl in the world would be completely picked apart”

  1. I like the idea of variety being the new thin, and think that would be a great lasting paradigm shift…but throwing in the “health!!” at the end, not so much. That’s just sending the message that someone who’s not healthy can’t be beautiful. Maybe it’s good to leave “heroin chic” behind, but hopefully variety applies to levels of perceived healthiness, as well.

  2. Just looked at the reviews for the book and was bemused to discover that there was already a concern troll posting about how people might read the book and think it was a big ol’ license to catch the fat. And then I was amused because the concern troll was careful to say that Renn is not “mordantly obese.” I think I’m mordantly obese–or perhaps just obese and mordant.

  3. It’s a lovely interview and she speaks so much sense – I ‘ll look out for the book.

    It’s an interesting nitpick, though, that she still has a bit of a grass-is-greener thing going on about a type of woman – the “pageant girl” – whose body doesn’t get judged or criticised so much. I doubt that’s true – isn’t body judgement precisely what a pageant is?

    “The grass is not greener anywhere. It is not grass. it is shit. ” – Me.

  4. Actually, I take that back. Obviously the grass is greener in some places than others. I just mean that nobody has the clean, luxuriant kind you can sit down in and have a picnic.

  5. hi sweet machine! SO SO SO happy kate actually read the book!! unsurprisingly, that interview is the bit of publicity that has made me the happiest.

    forestroad, i promise that crystal is not about hurling the word HEALTH as an afterthought. (as the last word in an interview, sure.) in the book and in conversation, she’s very clear that health was her motivation for giving up on straight-size modeling, and health is what drives the way she eats now. she’s very articulate about how eating healthily and protecting the the health of the planet are inextricably tied — yup, she’s one of those michael pollan fiends.

  6. I’ve read and heard about similar stories of models becoming anorexic and finding their ways out of it, if they’re lucky, for a while now–what, 25 years at least? I’m so sad it’s still going on. I do realize Renn’s story is different in that she did end up in Vogue.

    I’m conflicted; at the same time happy that she’s being revered as the beautiful model she is, and frustrated that we yearn (I include myself here) for Corporations to give us one little iota of recognition.

  7. I think it’s great to hear Crystal talking about what was best for her in terms of realizing that her body wasn’t happy when she lost the 70 pounds. It takes courage to say no to the pressures of society, and to go your own road, particularly in the fashion industry. Her story also counters the fantasy of being thin, thinking that we have to wait to be thin for our dreams to come true. This is a great example of living your true self and achieving your dreams.

  8. Mordantly obese? Does that mean that dye is permanently set with us deathfatties?

    Hee! I was thinking that too…. Uncle Google also tells me that mordant means bitingly sarcastic. Suddenly I find myself aspiring to be mordantly obese :)

  9. Hey, everyone, I know you love to drop links in here to get feedback on stories, links, etc. from other Shapelings, but this blog is not actually a message board. That’s why we have a real message board (and open threads). I know you mean well, but when it’s a link that is completely unrelated to the post at hand, from a moderation perspective, you are basically saying “Hello I am threadjacking now!”

  10. mordantly obese

    There’s a joke in there somewhere about dark colors being slimming, but I’m too brain-fried to find it.

    (“Mordant”‘s primary meaning is “dark” – a dye mordant is something added to make the color dark, a mordant wit is a dark sarcastic wit, etc. Maybe a banner with a black background, and the bloggers dressed as characters from the Addams Family?)

  11. I’m glad to see so many textile science geeks here, that we can be cracking jokes about mordants! :-)

    I thought the interview was really good, and Renn sounds like a very sharp woman and a great influence on body image issues.

    I was sort of cheered to see that the comments didn’t immediately take a turn toward fat hate. But unfortunately they DO have more than a tinge of “she-can’t-be-fat-she’s-beautiful!” exceptionalism to them. But I guess it would be too much to expect to avoid that stumbling block in the comments of a mainstream blog.

  12. but throwing in the “health!!” at the end, not so much. That’s just sending the message that someone who’s not healthy can’t be beautiful. Maybe it’s good to leave “heroin chic” behind, but hopefully variety applies to levels of perceived healthiness, as well.

    I think Crystal was using “health” as a way to contrast with bodies that are dieted into starvation, rather than as a qualification for being in fashion. She wasn’t saying, “all bodies are OK, as long as they’re healthy/abled” she was saying “all bodies are OK, so long as you aren’t starving yourself to be a certain way.”

  13. ” there was already a concern troll posting about how people might read the book and think it was a big ol’ license to catch the fat. ”

    Myth #1: “Plus Size” models are overweight. Crystal’s BMI is 24.4. This is a perfectly normal, healthy weight according to those who preach the gospel of BMI (I don’t).

    Myth #2: There is such a thing as a “plus-size” model. I am not sure where a Size 12 is considered Plus-size. I realize this is very different from the typical model, but if I really want to see what clothes might look like on me, I need a much shorter size 18 or 20. Crystal looks like my now-extinct thin fantasy.

    To accept the fashion industry’s current definition of ‘plus size’ model only serves to validate the preception that a BMI of 16 or 17 and a size zero or two are the norm, or are something the average woman should try to look like. We should be calling bullshit all over this!

    Crystal may be a ‘plus-size’ model, but she is an average-sized woman,

  14. AmyP, I’m too lazy to look, but are you the same person who commented on the original article saying that Kate wasn’t helping women because she was accepting that a size 12 was plus sized, and not ranting and raving about it?

    If so, just knock it off.

  15. ” there was already a concern troll posting about how people might read the book and think it was a big ol’ license to catch the fat. ”

    So does that mean that we should expect to be ticketed for being fat without a license?

  16. Re: mordantly obese

    You know I actually had to look up what that word means as an adjective? I only knew it as the noun that is used to set dye when dying fabrics. Very apt. Now I’ve had my vocab lesson for the day as well.

  17. I take AmyP’s point. Obviously, this blog calls bullshit on stuff like this all the time, but not in this particular post. My 5’6 230 pound mom gets so pissed off by the size 10 (and thinner; I swear some of the swimsuit/lingerie models are a 6) models in her plus size catalogues.

    Renn might have had to fight for recognition in the modeling world, but on the street she has thin privilege. As she narrates it, it was the modeling industry and the economic opportunities it offered that first led her to begin dieting. As a young teenager she was a cheerleader who had a positive body image. Now as a “plus size model” who is not plus size in any real-world sense, she peddles clothes that she herself can’t wear without significant alteration to women who are, on average, much larger.

    Rather than pinning a size 24 dress to Renn (as she mentions in her interview with Kate), why not use a size 24 model?

    I’m not against Crystal Renn or her book at all, but I question whether anything that does not outright condemn the modeling industry and their ridiculously limiting definitions of beauty is truly in FA territory, the boundaries of which Shapely Prose has so zealously patrolled (thank you for that–I love that no person can tell me about her “lifestyle change” here). If Renn were rhapsodizing about the Ford Agency’s tolerance, defending photo-shopping (“smoothing things out, making the clothes look good”), talking philosophically about the hardhips of being a gorgeous model rather than an “average, everyday girl who’s absolutely beautiful” on this blog someone would take a rhetorical bite out of her lovely backside. Saying that photographing Crystal Renn represents new thinking about weight is like saying that photographing Padma Lakshmi’s scar represents new thinking about disability.

  18. Alibelle-

    No, that wasn’t me. First time commenting here, or really, anywhere for that matter.

    I have been reading Shapely Prose for a long time, and I have a lot of respect for what these women are doing… my comments were not meant to criticize SP at all.

  19. De-lurking for the second time here to ask if the cover of the book is supposed to be a comment on the thin v. fat thing? I didn’t see any conversation about that, but if you look at the full length of the cover, the black dress (I guess?) makes a silhouette that is reminiscent of fashion drawings.

    Can anyone who read the book shed light on this?

  20. “Lettuce with a side of batshit” is the best thing I’ve read all week.

    And I’m pretty sure we have Marjorie to thank for that, as well as many other lines in the book that made me LOL.

    Hi, Marjorie! I’m glad I read the book, too! And glad you’re happy with the interview.

    One thing I’d like to note, which explains the “health” ending and a few other touchy points, is that this was a really long interview edited down to fit the word count my editor wanted. (As basically all interviews are.) Just as no post here can be every post, no interview can be every interview. Or even, um, the whole interview it’s based on.

  21. If Renn were rhapsodizing about the Ford Agency’s tolerance, defending photo-shopping (”smoothing things out, making the clothes look good”), talking philosophically about the hardhips of being a gorgeous model rather than an “average, everyday girl who’s absolutely beautiful” on this blog someone would take a rhetorical bite out of her lovely backside.

    This is true; I mean, that’s one of the reasons I linked the interview back here, so that we could talk about it. But I also want to reiterate something FJ said recently in a long thread:

    I keep meaning to write the “no post can be every post” post but for now… no post can be every post. It’s good that people bring things up in comments that couldn’t be covered in the main post, but even so, not every conversation will hit every important point or be about everybody.

    I realize that I’m reacting defensively, and I apologize if I’m extra touchy about this right now. It’s just that we’ve talked about models, fashion, and sizing a lot here before, so when a new commenter (not to pick on you, AmyP! thanks for delurking! and clarifying!) says we “should be calling bullshit on this,” well, I wonder what blog they think they’re reading.

  22. What a great interview; and Renn sounds like a marvelous role model.

    Incidentally, the comments on the Jezebel version of this post are so heartbroking. “It’s easy for Crystal to say because she looks good but I’m so ugly at the same weight!” Sigh; there’s a long way to go.

  23. Thanks for the clarification Sweet Machine. I comment infrequently, but I read daily and have been reading for a while. You all have been on the front lines of all these issues at every turn; I realize that and am grateful for the strong principles expressed here (as well as the concise and witty prose). I’ve learned a lot from this blog and am so happy that it’s out there.

  24. @buttercup“Mordantly obese? Does that mean that dye is permanently set with us deathfatties?”

    I’d like to think it means the sarcasm is.

  25. I didn’t take AmyP’s or Sarah’s comments to mean that you – SM, Fillyjonk, A Sarah, and Kate – should have necessarily pointed out the parts of the article where Crystal Renn says something not 100% pro-FA or 100% sensical in an FA framework.

    I felt that AmyP and Sarah were pointing out some of those instances themselves, because like you say, “[it’s] good that people bring things up in comments that couldn’t be covered in the main post.”

    When AmyP said we “should be calling bullshit on this,” I took that as a “Hey SP community, chime in if you agree” not “The bloggers here should have said this themselves.”

    But I see how that is open to interpretation. And now I’ve gone all meta.

    I loved reading about Crystal’s experiences. I wasn’t expecting her to be pro-FA. I look forward to reading her book.

  26. There’s a joke in there somewhere about dark colors being slimming, but I’m too brain-fried to find it.

    (”Mordant”’s primary meaning is “dark” – a dye mordant is something added to make the color dark, a mordant wit is a dark sarcastic wit, etc. Maybe a banner with a black background, and the bloggers dressed as characters from the Addams Family?)

    Pedantry ahoy! Actually, “mordant” comes from the Latin “mordere”, which means “to bite”. A dye mordant helps the colour “bite” into the fabric; mordant wit is biting wit.

  27. I do think a lot of “fat” has to do with context. Compared to most professional models and/or working actresses size 12 is huge. (In the context of a clothing company whose sizes start at women’s size 22? Well, I haven’t seen Renn in their ads. ;)

    I think Renn’s book may help shake things up by communicating:
    – Dieting is not benign. “The stereotype of models is that we’re brain-dead,” she writes, “but some of us are just starving.”
    – TV/Magazines routinely features women who are underweight. No, not just thin, clinically underweight, which is not achievable in the long-term by most people.

    Those are good messages to get out, and the fact that Renn is NOT officially obese (or even overweight) will probably help get the anti-diet message out.

    Also: The CDC says the number of officially underweight Americans is going down — but I suspect that some of that is due to repeated weight cycling leading to long-term gain, not people hopping off the diet bandwagon.

    (And yay Kate for her first Salon interview! ;)

  28. Incidentally, the comments on the Jezebel version of this post are so heartbroking. “It’s easy for Crystal to say because she looks good but I’m so ugly at the same weight!” Sigh; there’s a long way to go.

    Hrmmm… while I acknowledge that there is a long way to go and many (most) of the people LilahMorgan is referring to are, in fact, bemoaning their own fatness, I’d like to put in a word for de-demonizing (is that even a word that makes sense?) the word ugly. Ugly just means that one’s features don’t have a certain type of arrangement or shape. Just like fat means fat and not any of the things associated with it. Ugly doesn’t mean smelly or stupid or useless or weird or creepy. It’s just ugly and it’s ok. I know that it’s a big part of the ‘message’ on many FA blogs that one can be fat and beautiful and that’s all well and good, but some people are ugly. I am. It used to bug me, now… eh. Not so much.

    I understand intellectually that it’s good that women with some variation in body size are starting to make inroads (teeny tiny ones, but inroads none the less) into fashion mags, but… well, I just couldn’t give a rip. Beauty is a standard. It’s a set of features and an arrangement of body parts that people find pleasing. If we extend it to everyone, then it’s meaningless except as a synonym for “human”. Which is ok I guess, but it’s taking a perfectly good word and turning it into nothing.

    To me, all this concentration on who is and isn’t beautiful is tough to swallow. To me, including Crystal Renn in “beautiful” is sort of like putting back the pre-1998 BMI standards… it would make millions of people “normal” again, but doesn’t actually do shit to fix the problem of judging people based on their weight. I suppose I’m happy for the women (maybe millions of them) who could get into the “beautiful club” on the Crystal Renn card, but it’s still a club that gets a lot of privilege that is closed to those of us who don’t make the cut. I’d far prefer to see the privilege de-coupled from the club than see them extend the velvet rope out around a few extra select women.

    But maybe I’m just a bitter mordantly ugly fat chick.

  29. Cassi – that’s a really, really interesting comment.

    One of the things that’s been important for me is Kate’s assertion that it’s quite okay to not date someone because they’re fat. That helped me because it focused me differently – although I haven’t quite articulated it to myself before now. I think that focused my view that my own FA is mainly about destroying the stereotypes involved with fat, rather than a creation of an accepted global fat aesthetic – although I think the lack of demonization makes a huge difference, and that which isn’t demonized has room to find its own expression of aesthetic, which is not limited to traditional “beauty”.

    Perceived beauty between people really is, mostly, in chemistry – love does come to all sorts of people, and so does being single. Cultural tropes are often currency of some sort more than they say anything about individuals.

    So Fat is Beautiful is not a huge goal for me, so much as fatties being left the hell alone from stereotypical judgment.

    Yet, looking at the pics at Adipositivity made a HUGE difference for me, because it made other fat people part of an aesthetic conversation. Still, I very much doubt Adipositivity will (or should) go mainstream; it’s necessary, but would be its own barbarism if it should replace the current fashions. If fat did become the new “it” look, it would be oppression of a different feather.

    But I suppose my feeling is that there will always be a common aesthetic trope, and I might not ever be part of that. I’m aging out of it pretty quickly, too. And I’m okay with that, so long as Britney Spears is not the standard that Hilary Clinton or Janet Reno are held to – that we are allowed, as women, to be ugly and also great scientists, without our ugliness being constantly yammered about as an accusation against the other parts of ourselves. Or ugly and sexual, or ugly and loved. That ugly be possible, and fat beauty be possible, and beauty of different heights, abilities, and races be possible, and none of it have fuck all to do with how easily we get taken seriously as people.

  30. Cassi, my comment was directed more to the vitriol of the language the commentors were using about themselves and the fact that it meant obviously *they* need to diet; that is not a picture of treating ugly as a neutral characteristic, which I agree is a goal.

  31. Rather than pinning a size 24 dress to Renn (as she mentions in her interview with Kate), why not use a size 24 model?

    Which is exactly the thought I had. I think it was living400lbs’ blog where she linked to Making It Big and I got to see actual! models! my! size! that I realized what was so wrong with most plus size modeling. Sure the dress looks super great on a size 12, but there’s a reason why it’s lumpy and misshapen when I put it on, and not as fabulous as advertised.

    There can’t possibly be a dearth of actually big plus size women out there who want to model for a living, please, let them model!

  32. I loved reading about Crystal’s experiences. I wasn’t expecting her to be pro-FA. I look forward to reading her book.

    The book is shockingly pro-FA, actually. (I’m even quoted!) It’s kind of an amazing stealth FA101 text, even. Again, not sure how much of that is Crystal and how much is Marjorie, but either way, I was really thrilled to see it.

  33. That ugly be possible, and fat beauty be possible, and beauty of different heights, abilities, and races be possible, and none of it have fuck all to do with how easily we get taken seriously as people.

    Hear, hear. This is an awesome way of putting it.

    And thanks, everyone, for engaging with me on the meta level, too. I really appreciate that Shapelings are willing and eager to discuss rhetoric as part of feminism and FA. Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

  34. Ugly doesn’t mean smelly or stupid or useless or weird or creepy.

    Actually, it does; or, more precisely, it can. A definition:

    http://www.answers.com/topic/ugly

    I’ve very rarely seen anyone whom I’ve thought was genuinely, inherently ugly. IMHO, true ugliness – true unsightliness, that is not the result of disfigurement – is as rare as marked beauty.

    The terms that are missing in this discussion, that I suspect are more applicable to most, are homely, and plain. And no, we don’t become ugly as we age; we simply become old, and look it.

  35. Arwen,
    Thank you so much. I’ve spent a lot of my life being kinda pissed off by the world, but it’s been in the past year or two that I’ve become an out-of-the-closet feminist, with the Humorless and Bitchy parts capitalized. And this is why. I am tired of being judged on how decorative I am. I am tired of having Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin judged on how decorative they are. Women are not Things, they are People. Which is why FA is so important, and is really more than FA.

    -S

  36. Godless Heathen –

    Yup, it was me. I had a similar experience when I first saw the Making It Big catalog 14-15 years ago.

    From a retailer’s point of view, they want to show the clothing in a way that will reach their target market and sell the most. LB has maybe a dozen items in size 30? Making it Big’s size range starts at size 22 and goes up to 48, and even their models are on the low end of their size range. Different markets….

    Then there’s budgets. The owner/designer of Love Your Peaches models a bunch of things herself.

    From a practical point of view, I think that someone who wears 5X will find seeing it on a model who wears 4X or 5X is really helpful. For someone who wears XL or 2X, seeing it on someone who wears 5X is less helpful. So a variety of size models is useful — from a utilitarian point of view ;)

  37. Hear, hear. This is an awesome way of putting it.

    Agreed, it’s a totally awesome way of putting it and I wish I’d said it half that well. Fuck all to do with it, indeed.

    @LilahMorgan… sorry, I was just taking your quote as a jumping off point, not really so much responding to your actual comment and should have said as much. It was really just the coupling of size and ugliness that caught my eye. The seeming… I don’t know the right word… centrality? of trying to get fat women to be seen as beautiful in many (not all, but quite a few) FA discussions grates my cheese. I suppose it’s my own version of the “good fattie/bad fattie” divide. I didn’t mean to imply YOU were doing it, just that your comment reminded me that it happens a lot.

    @Eucritta… heh, yes you’re right (on the definition of ugly). I should have been more precise and said that just because a person would be judges aesthetically ugly, doesn’t mean that person is smelly or weird or creepy. As for the word “disfigurement”, to me it’s a lot like the term “overweight”… it implies there’s some figure my face was supposed to have and something went wrong. Nothing went wrong. It’s just a face. A human face.

    I know I’m not saying this well and after this I’ll stop threadjacking, but I really appreciate the folks here that have managed to get what I’m trying to say. I doubt that would have happened many other places.

  38. Cassi, by disfigurement, I meant, by disease or injury. I myself am to some extent disfigured, for instance, in that I have both routinely visible surgical scars, and many joints which have been deformed as well as impaired by decades of rheumatoid arthritis. And yes, I do think, in this instance, that something went wrong.

  39. “I am tired of being judged on how decorative I am. I am tired of having Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin judged on how decorative they are. Women are not Things, they are People. Which is why FA is so important, and is really more than FA.”

    Amen.

    On a less deep topic, I have to say that I love the cover photo. It looks like the success story pictures from diet ads, but instead of a thin person holding up their old fat clothes, she’s an average-sized person holding up thin clothes. I would love to see a photographer do a series like this, showing people whose weight gain represents a success story – someone who recovered from a wasting disease, someone who gained weight during a much-wanted pregnancy, someone who has gained weight over time and feels positive about their age, someone whose quality of life is improved by medications that cause weight gain… the possibilities are endless.

  40. I love this interview. I do agree with all the above commenters that it is ridiculous that at a size 12 she is still considered “plus-sized”, but it is going to take a very long time for the fashion industry to move out of their ridiculous double-zero mindset, so I appreciate even the baby steps away from that. Crystal’s whole experience ties into something that has bothered me since I was about 12 years old, actually. The first time I ever remember reading about sizeism was actually in a doll magazine. It was around the time Robert Tonner had sculpted and released his doll of Emme, and they interviewed her for Dolls: The Collectors Magazine. She talked about her struggles, and one of them that made a big impact on me was her telling about a photographer who called her a “cow” and said he wouldn’t shoot with her because she was “disgusting.” I remember looking at this beautiful woman and being so, so confused that anyone could say that to her. I also remember being disgusted by the article’s mention of news commentators who called the doll “Barbie’s Rotund Rival”. It sparked my preadolescent feminist, and I remember the bemused reaction many people had when I exposited at length at how stupid, unfair, and totally wrong it was that people couldn’t just see the beauty of the woman and the doll and not worry about stupid things like the size of either.

  41. Cassi, I agree with you completely. I often think about it when the plus size models discussion comes up and people say things like “you go girl, girls with curves rule” and things alike. I feel like shifting the beauty paradigm towards curvier women wouldn’t do anyone any good, sure it would include women who are now out casted, but it would still cast out others. And Crystal Renn’s idea of having different sizes represented, while it’s all good, would still not represent much. How about different heights as well? Because looking at their kilometrical legs is still frustrating when you’re 5′ 1/2. And the list could go on. My point is, in the words of Lesley at fatshionista that I felt were just perfect, when it comes to the fashion industry I don’t want a slice of the cake, I want a different cake altogether. I’m sorry to say this, but as long as being a model is considered something amazing and out of this world to strive for, not much is going to change. Also, I am a cynical person and I believe our society is always going to try to quantify beauty. Crystal gave the examples of the 50’s 60’s and 80’s, but the ancient greeks themselves had perfect mathematical formulas and considered proportions were the keys to true beauty. Curves are slowly becoming more fashionable now, and boob jobs in girls under the age of 18 have increased a lot in the past years. How is that any better? The problem is not the skinny models, the fat models, or the blond models, the problem is the cult of beauty itself. And I don’t see any signs of it going anywhere but up sadly.

    PS: This is not directed at SP in particular, I love the fact that tis fat recognizes things like “real women have curves” is just as bad as saying that all women should be skinny. And I do really like Crystal Renn, she’s stunning and seems to be very smart and likeable, I’m just ranting at the “beauty as an industry” in general.

  42. Did I seriously just write ” I love the fact that tis fat”?? I meant “I love the fact that this site…” I’m sorry, it’s really late, I should get some sleep, I’m clearly out of it.

  43. i’m going to bed too!

    fwiw, crystal’s weight ranges from 165 to 175 or thereabouts (she doesn’t tend to weigh herself, but she can guess from how her clothes fit). depending on where she is in her range, she’s either just clinging to “normal weight” or just barely “overweight,” according to the BMI crap. no argument from me that it’s loony to categorize size 12 as plus size.

    michelle: there are two covers! we couldn’t come to a consensus about one! so the publisher did what they call a “split run.” it’s funny hearing some people say “she looks fatter” in one image or the other. (there’s no consensus on WHICH she looks fatter in, btw.)

  44. @Eucritta, I understand and if you choose the word to describe yourself that’s fine. Same as I’m fine with women who choose the word overweight for themselves. But to me they’re the same. See, I’m also fat “by disease or injury” (actually, in my case it’s a combination of both with a dash of genetics thrown in) it doesn’t change my point. These things happened. This is the body an older, arthritic, depressed, on meds, weight lifting, bike riding Cassi has… it’s not overweight just because it was once (before those things happened) at a lower weight. It just is. Same with my face… some of it I was born with, some of it came through various life events (some good, some not so good). It’s not disfigured. It’s exactly what a face should look like for a me that’s been through what I’ve been through. Does that make any sense?

    Oh and in case any of this comes across as whiny. I’m generally pretty happy. I’m happily partnered (have been for decades) and have a good job.

  45. Grrr… my mouse decided to post that without my consent!

    My final point was just that the push to be included in beautiful bothers me because it’s NOT necessary for happiness (as Arwen so eloquently pointed out) and I worry that the effort itself causes more unhappiness than it will ever bring to the few that it might do something for.

    Now I really am shutting up ;)

  46. Re: ugly/pretty…
    I agree that it’s a huge problem that women are evaluated first on their decorative qualities, second (or third or more) on their brains, hearts, intrinsic human value, contribution to the world, etc.

    I don’t think (on this site anyway) there’d be much disagreement with the assertion that our culture is way too visual, superficial, and unaccepting of variety (in appearances, sexuality, and any number of other areas).

    But I wanted to chime in on the ‘ugly/pretty’ discussion. In my experience, when I first meet someone, I do notice their appearance, but as I get to know a person, my perception of him/her physically is hugely influenced by his/her personality and our relationship. My friends always look ‘beautiful’ to me (because, as trite as this sounds, I am seeing them partly from the inside out). That’s why models have never done much for me– I can see the symmetry in these ‘beautiful people,’ but there’s no pull because I don’t know them, and my sense of attraction is strongly tied to personality.

    I can see the point in wanting to devalue ‘beauty’ as a goal or ideal of all women, because there are certainly more important things, but on the other hand, I don’t think there’s anyone I’ve gotten to know who didn’t have something beautiful about them. A beautiful smile, a lovely laugh, a certain gracefulness or warmth… I know that sounds hokey, but I’d suggest looking for different kinds of beauty in other human beings (all of them). Ugly is as ugly does and all that.

  47. @Eucritta, I understand and if you choose the word to describe yourself that’s fine.

    I doubt you meant this to be patronizing but … I don’t need your permission to think of myself any way I please. Just sayin’.

    And yes, I do think I understand what you mean – and I disagree. On the one hand, yes, what I am like now could be considered my ‘normal’ – but on the other, I *am* physically and neurologically impaired, I *am* disabled, I *am* to some extent deformed by disease processes, and I *am* disfigured by surgical scars.

    I think, as I struggle to answer this, that to some extent my problem with perceiving all this as ‘normal’ seems to me … uncomfortably close to denial, to looking the other way, an erasure of my limitations, pain, and daily struggle to function, and on a larger scale … like pulling a rug over these parts of the spectrum.

  48. TinaMarie, I think I agree with you. I just really don’t define the word “beauty” to have as much to do with conventional physical attractiveness as this discussion seems to be saying. Cassi, I think it’s interesting that you suggested that saying all people are beautiful somehow devalues the idea of beauty, like we can only identify beauty by its opposition to ugliness. I don’t know, I identify beauty based on what strikes me as wonderful and pleasing, and I DO find that in most people — and when I don’t see it, it’s because I find their personalities ugly, and it makes their whole selves — bodies included — repulsive to me. I perceive beauty in a whole person, a combination of their appearance and how their personalities animate that appearance. The “beauty ideal” is entirely physical, but also, you know, false, and I find it narrow not because it fails to include slightly fatter symmetrical faces, but because it ignores personhood. Beautiful ≠ pretty.

    So I in no way deny a person’s right to claim physical ugliness and identify with that in an empowering way. But if I say I find a person beautiful when they don’t meet the beauty ideal, it’s not because I think their physical appearance falls within a slightly wider range of physical gorgeousness. It’s because my perception of their personality and how that intersects with their bodies strikes me as beautiful. People who are generally considered physically ugly can easily fall within that territory.

  49. TinaMarie, Volcanista, I’m with you. I’ve always been that way, finding that my friends and my family and the people I’m closest to are all, in some fashion, ‘beautiful’. Beauty and Ugly are not absolutes, and we don’t have much business trying to set down some unremovable standard, and what’s beautiful to one person may be ‘meh’ to another… errrgh, you guys have said it much better.

    Just like how “fat” carries all this baggage of “bad horrible awful repugnant person”, so do all other non-visually-appealing things. Our culture is so obsessed with youth and the image of health (not actual health) that anything not fitting within that, be it big bodies or crooked noses and teeth or visible disabilities is looked at as a MORAL failing, in a sense. All human beings are worthy of love and respect, regardless of looks and health and whatever the heck else. I’m sure we can get behind that? :)

    Beauty is everywhere. This life is full of so much beauty, so many things that are wonderful and pleasing, and it’s rare for us to stop and step outside of convention and actually realize it. My friends are beautiful. My city is beautiful. You people, all of you, you’re beautiful! GROUP HUG, EVERYONE!

  50. @ AmyP, good. I didn’t have a big problem with your comment on here, but there was one similiar to it on the original post that made me so angry that I wanted to whip babies.

  51. @AmyP yeah, I go back and forth on sizing. other people have pointed out here that the blog has done awesome stuff in the past, though I will admit I’m kinda up in the air about it never being a good idea to say “you’re not fat” I recognize that society will tell a woman you’re fat if you wear a size 8, and I do recognize the damage of that. but I think part of fighting that, and truly reclaiming fat as a neutral adjective, is recognizing where it doesn’t apply-fighting the overuse. Same with plus size. I can’t really see why modeling stuff that doesn’t come in your size(I know she hasn’t necessarily done this. it’s more hypothetical). but who gets to tell a model “you’re plus sized” and “sorry, you’re not?” I don’t have the right, and I’m not sure who else should.

  52. This has got me thinking. Are the concepts of “beauty” and “health” intrinsically tied? If not, should they be?

    There are plenty of examples of mainstream society idolising the unhealthy. Too-thin models and heroin chic is just the ‘thin’ end of the wedge. I find it creepy rather than beautiful but there are plenty of fashion editors who disagree.

    What about plastic surgery? Women mutilating their bodies and pumping them full of plastic is not healthy – and to me it’s not beautiful either.

    For me, I think the two are linked. I find beauty both in my own idiosyncratic preferences for certain arrangements of facial features but also in health. When people talk about beauty coming from within, they are usually talking about personality, but another way of looking at it is about the inner life of your body and mind taking expression on the outside. Of course, both health and beauty are a continuum.

    Please note, I’m not talking about weight. I do believe that women of different sizes can be beautiful, just as I believe that women of different sizes can be healthy.

    Also, I am not making a moral judgment about beauty, just about my own notions of it. The fat acceptance movement has reclaimed the word “fat” and says it’s not a moral judgment to describe people as fat. So saying people are beautiful or not isn’t either.

  53. Re: ugly, it feels a little like we’re falling into the “but YOU’re not fat” trap with this as well.

    Abe Lincoln was an ugly guy. I can say that without feeling like I’ve fallen into any trap or diminished him in any way. It’s kind of like saying he was tall. There’s a “so what?” factor there. On the other hand, I try to put that descriptor to a woman–any woman–and it makes me feel like a jerk. As if I’ve just pulled out the knives. I think that says something about where I *still* think my own value and women’s value in general lies, and it makes me sad and angry.

  54. Well, but Starling, ugly is a lot more subjective than fat. There might be debate about where on the spectrum fat begins (and perceptions will be different for different body types), but at some level there’s going to be a near-consensus of “fat” or “not.” I really don’t think that exists for ugliness/beauty – hell, since it’s less loaded, look at clothes. I don’t think you can find a garment in this world that some people won’t champion as gorgeous and other people as ugly. Or physical surroundings – some people love cities, some people think they’re miserable and hideous; some people love the desert, other people think it’s barren, destitute, and ugly, etc. And I think we all generally accept that.

    But then we’re taught that there’s this objective standard of beauty for people and we’re being touchy-feely or poliically correct if we suggest otherwise, which seems bizarre to me. (And I don’t necessarily look at a picture of Abe Lincoln and think “ugly” either, though I’ll admit I’ve never really thought about it.)

  55. Abe Lincoln: HAWT OR NOT?
    Cracks me up.

    I think that the only “subjective” measure of “beauty” I’ve seen are the symmetry (measured by percentage) and skin studies, where people below a certain symmetry level or above a certain skin clarity level start experiencing more universal societal labels of ugly, including recoil and staring, regardless of their cultural setting. Abe Lincoln would certainly fall on the “beautiful” side of those studies.

    And even the truly “ugly” by those standards are people to whom we can acclimate and become attracted to based on who they are. (Anyone see District Nine?) Because beauty really, on an individual level, IS in the eye of the beholder. I agree with Lilah. Our mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.

    But, I think it’s also important to acknowledge that some people will be closer to an accepted cultural ideal, and that will make a difference in their lives. If you’re 80, you’re dealing with the cultural weight of beauty differently than if you’re 20. If you’re paraplegic, you’re dealing with a different set of challenges interacting with beauty culture. An Asian friend of mine has to fend off “exotic” “petite” and “submissive” tropes in the culture of Asian beauty and considered eyelid surgery; racism is a big part of her dialogue with beauty culture.

    So ugly really isn’t a universal or of any relationship relevance between people. And ugly can mean “not beautiful” vs the standard, or it can mean “not attractive”, and those are also different things. Alan Rickman is sexy to me and my husband just doesn’t see it. *cough*.

    But I think it’s also important to realize that how society compares us to the ideal is affecting our experience.

    Beauty is one of many factors.

  56. LilahMorgan: Yeah, I see what you mean–it is subjective. I agree that beauty does tend to be in the eye of the beholder, to an extent we simply don’t realize because we don’t live in other people’s minds. Yet there is a real distinction between beautiful and ugly, wherever our own personal standards start and stop.

    I’m coming at this conversation from a bit of an angle–I realized the other day that I don’t generally look at men and think about their attractiveness, unless I’m looking for someone to date. There are occasionally the ones who smite the eye with extraordinary beauty, but it’s generally not a part of my “reading” of the people I see. On the other hand, I do tend to register the beauty of women. Is it innate competitiveness? A poisonous effect of a culture in that objectifies women? In any case, it really disturbed me to realize that I was doing it. So at the moment, I’m feeling very anti-physical-judgments altogether.

  57. Bonnie: I notice that how handsome I find Abraham Lincoln has a lot to do with which era his facial hair is living in. The more 19th c, it is, the more it takes me a while to adjust my eyes to see his features.

    Which is to say, Lincoln’s looks are mediated by his era, when it comes to aesthetic responses. Or, Abraham Lincoln’s facial hair was a size 8… or 16, by today’s standards.

  58. Bonnie–I love that photo. Lincoln’s never struck me as anything but Lincoln, but his contemporaries thought him super-hideous. His face is too much a part of our cultural conditioning to really look at objectively, I think. He’s interesting to me because he spent a lot of the first two years of the Civil War engaged in his own battles with General George McClellan, who eventually ran against him in 1864. McClellan was considered a really handsome man (which, I must say, I don’t see either), and had a celebrity/rock star dynamic with a lot of the North. So yeah, just ignore me, I’m having a history-dweeb moment.

  59. I wonder if, to an extent, our assessments of Lincoln’s appearance are influenced by the extent to which the surviving photos … reveal the asymmetry of his face, and drooping, meandering left eye. I think it was these, in combination with his gauntness, awkwardness, and ravaged skin, that led his contemporaries to perceive him as physically ugly.

  60. “This has got me thinking. Are the concepts of “beauty” and “health” intrinsically tied? If not, should they be?”

    They’re deeply *culturally* tied, aided by our society’s selective exploitation of certain ‘intrinsic’ psychodynamic processes. Sander Gilman has written at length on the topic; see his texts ‘Picturing Health and Illness’ and ‘Difference and Pathology’.

  61. Here’s a thought: is it appropriate in the context of this discussion to distinguish between pretiness and beauty? I tend to think of the former as fairly socially controlled and the latter as having some deeper meanings, at least ideally. But maybe that’s a meaningless distinction.

  62. Mordantly Obese: one day our fat will cause us to dye.
    wow, I am still laughing at that. out loud. luckily no one else is home.

  63. @Eucritta… I’m can see that I did sound patronizing and I truly do apologize. To clarify, to me (and I stress that “to me” part, because this is such a techy subject for so many of us) the “true ugliness – true unsightliness, that is not the result of disfigurement” comment sounded patronizing too, which is why I reacted as I did. For me, it bordered, as another poster pointed out, on the “but you’re not fat!” type response. You seemed to be responding to my comment on my own looks and society’s take on them, so, while again trying to honor (not bestow, just honor) your right to use the term, I will say that I am not DIS-figured, just figured. Just as I am not OVER-weight, just a weight.

    As for your comment on denial… yeah, I think I can see what you mean. I don’t agree (at least not for myself), but I can see it. I’ve always assumed the opposite. To normalize what I could have been had certain things not “gone wrong” both before and after I was born is a denial of who I am now. To you (I think I hear you say) that to normalize where you are, would be to deny what has happened to you. Two different takes on two different (though perhaps similar) situations. I have a lot to learn from your view. Perhaps I am in denial, cloaked as acceptance. I don’t think so, but I’m open to the possibility.

    I do want to say that despite disagreeing and perhaps not expressing all my points well, I deeply deeply value what everyone in this thread is saying. It’s helping me question, clarify and modify my own initial responses to the subject and I sincerely appreciate every single comment here.

  64. “I would love to see a photographer do a series like this, showing people whose weight gain represents a success story – someone who recovered from a wasting disease, someone who gained weight during a much-wanted pregnancy, someone who has gained weight over time and feels positive about their age, someone whose quality of life is improved by medications that cause weight gain… the possibilities are endless.”

    I LOVE this idea! Since I have many friends who have gained weight as a result of their recovery from an eating disorder or from some other mental illness/disorder-as a side effect of taking life saving medicines-I think that if these pictures were done with the people’s own success story, then it would really help millions of people realize just how far they really have come. I am just so tired of hearing people say in my support groups stuff like, “It’s really great that I’m no longer depressed and want to kill myself anymore, but my body is so disgusting now…” It just makes me want to scream every time and is in fact, one of the reasons why I’ve left one of my groups. I just keep on hearing people have the idea that all of their hard work was not really worth it, since they did gain weight. I want to so desperately convince them that that is complete bullshit, but that would require superhuman powers and ultimately it is my own recovery that is the most important…

  65. “I would love to see a photographer do a series like this, showing people whose weight gain represents a success story – someone who recovered from a wasting disease, someone who gained weight during a much-wanted pregnancy, someone who has gained weight over time and feels positive about their age, someone whose quality of life is improved by medications that cause weight gain… the possibilities are endless.”

    Well, it’s not success stories after weight gain, but Leonard Nimoy’s Full Body Project has some amazing photographs of women who are all shapes and sizes. And the fat women he photographed aren’t just the traditional hourglass “curvy” girls, but actual fat women with folds, wrinkles and everything. And they are awesome. The photographs are awesome. Here’s a link:

    http://www.leonardnimoyphotography.com/7body.htm

    Like we needed another reason to love this guy.

  66. Wow, there have been so many great points raised by a lot of people. Hahaha, talk about the sweet, sweet blog comments of my dreams! 8D

    @Cassi: Word. I really agree with the points you made, especially about how attempting to de-emphasize physical beauty in one’s own psyche can be liberating, and is perhaps more important than expanding the standards of beauty. In any case, I feel like you make the case for it really articulately. I feel like what you said should be a blog post.

    @Eucritta: I think you raised some really good points. I think how we perceive the origins of our bodies’ defining characteristics affects how (and whether) we internalize them as parts of our identity. This got me thinking about a thought experiment that I wanted people’s takes on:

    First scenario, someone has the genes that code for a birth defect that would affect how beautiful they are perceived, both by themselves and by society. For arguments’ sake, assume that the defect is only cosmetic, with no other health implications.

    Second scenario, someone is cosmetically disfigured in an accident, or as the result of a degenerative disease.

    Third scenario, someone has a cosmetic birth defect as a result of a medication zer mother took during pregnancy.

    In which of these scenarios do you folks think it’s worthwhile to attempt to convince oneself to regard the defect as part of zer identity? Cassi seems to believe that traits acquired later in life should be regarded as part of one’s identity.

    Eucritta, do you think, if the trait is due to genetics, would you be more likely to consider it as part of one’s essential identity (i.e. something one should accept and celebrate, as opposed to categorize it as pathological).

    To me, the third case presents the hardest challenge to me to the attempts to convince oneself that one is beautiful. Was the physique that ze would possess if zer mother hadn’t taken the medication during pregnancy zer true self that zer was disrupted from, or is the acquired trait just as valid as the lack of the trait?

    Cassi, I feel like your stance on the issue raises an interesting question in the last scenario. If the physique with the trait is to be considered as authentic as the potential one without it, then is there any reason for the mother to avoid taking the medication to avoid the cosmetic change?

    While there is some truth to the notion that expanding the standards of beauty in one direction will likely exclude some other people that were included before, I think there’s something to be said for trying to influence the standards of beauty towards ones that include more people’s bodies (i.e. perhaps, from a utilitarian perspective, encouraging the celebration of larger people will include more people than are excluded by the change).

    Still, when it comes to one’s concept of one’s own attractiveness, I feel like the most important thing is to de-emphasize the importance of beauty to the extent that one can in one’s own mind (rather than convince oneself that one is beautiful). I’d rather try to question the notion of the importance of viewing myself as attractive as necessary for my self-worth rather than try to convince myself that I’m attractive.

    I think that, for some people, they feel that, even taking societal pressures into account, they legitimately feel that they’re not attractive to themselves, and that they should focus on how that’s not a big deal in zer own self-esteem. Of course, the way society treats people based on their attractiveness still has implications for attaining one’s goals.

    While I think it’s fine that some people consider themselves unattractive, and that that’s not necessarily something that is that important to change, a point was made here by either sweetmachine or fillyjonk that maybe the most important thing is to convince zerself that zer is not ugly. I think that’s a good point, because, while someone may legitimately find themselves ugly, often classifying oneself as ugly is used as a scapegoat for other causes of unhappiness in one’s life, and as a justification for feelings of self-loathing.

    Here’s one thing that I was thinking about as a response to this, and I’d appreciate anyone’s thoughts on it–skeptical ugliness. Basically, if someone feels like zer most comfortable with viewing themselves as somewhat unattractive, that’s fine. But ze should strive to be skeptical of the notion that zeself is repulsively ugly, because that view may change, may be due to societal influences, or actually due to other sources of stress in zer life.

    Anyway, sorry for the rambling, and I apologize if I come across as awkward or incoherent sometimes–I’m tired and trying to get these thoughts down while they’re on my mind.. There have been so many great issues raised in this thread, I feel like there could be a lot “unpacked” from this discussion. And even when I don’t agree with people on some of their points, I feel like I’d share more in my views in these matters than the vast majority of the population, so I try to keep that in mind.

  67. @Cassi,

    to me (and I stress that “to me” part, because this is such a techy subject for so many of us) the “true ugliness – true unsightliness, that is not the result of disfigurement” comment sounded patronizing too, which is why I reacted as I did.

    I apologize. It wasn’t my intent, and I’m sorry.

  68. Thank you. Clearly this is one that people have strong feelings on and I know I’m very sensitive on it. I really do appreciate your view point. It’s been enlightening.

  69. Jamie – That’s right! I wish there were more people like him and I can’t believe I wasn’t able to see him at Dragon Con this year! He came, I went, but I did not conquer! lol

  70. Jamie- Thanks for posting the links to the Full Body Project. I didn’t know Leonard Nimoy did photography! I took a brief peek at the first link and the photos look beautiful. I’ll have to go back and visit again when I have more time.

  71. @Cassi – I’ve been rolling your comment around some more. Do and your partner define you as attractive/sexy/beautiful in the context of your relationship? I am wondering where “ugly” lives for you – interested in how radically you’ve unhooked this.

  72. I’m pretty offended by the fact that she was told that 98 lbs was fat! As someone who struggles still with disordered eating (whoo, anorexia), I can’t imagine what it would be like to be at such a low weight and still be told it isn’t good enough. It’s one thing if you tell yourself that, but to hear it from someone else has to be 100x more devastating.

  73. Arwen, my husband definitely considers me “attractive” in that I attracted him, but he is notoriously non-visual. It’s a standing joke in our circle to ask him (when he’s being really dense on something) “and just what color IS Marty’s hair?” Marty was his PhD adviser and they worked closely for many many years. The man had hair like Einstein’s… on steroids. Shocking white, curly, a foot long and utterly wild. It wasn’t hair, it was a tornado that touched down.

    His answer?

    “Uh… brown???”

    Over the course of our years together I gained and lost over 100 pounds. He never once noticed and if you try to tell him it’s so, he’ll think you need psychological help. If we watch a TV show that has more than one blond or brunette character he’ll say, “wait, wasn’t he just kissing her? Why is he trying to kill her?” They don’t have to look at all alike… he only has so many categories for looks and after that, if he doesn’t know you, it’s all a wash. He’s the perfect person for me.

    This all touches on a point that several people made about attractiveness vs beauty. And seeing beauty in people you know vs first (physical) impressions. I’m pretty clear that attractiveness isn’t the same as beauty. As Kate has pointed out here many times, what is attractive to one person might not do it for another, but when I think of beauty, I tend to be referring to the Greek symmetry sort of beauty. Beauty that tends to be fairly universal in it’s appeal (and it really is astounding how a symmetrical face will be seen as beautiful by people from around the globe). I’m also distinguishing physical beauty from that which we see in people we know. Volcanista made a point many posts back about defining beauty in relation to ugliness… but to me, the idea of beauty as separate from ugliness (or even plainness) is more about the person, seeing their humanity and that is something that, while deeply important in every day life, is useless in a magazine photo spread (which is where this whole thing started).

    @BlueSphere52, I’m mulling your scenarios… not sure I’ll be able to answer you really. I think you’ve pricked quite a whole in my “I don’t give a damn about looks” persona, because I would probably go to great lengths to save someone from having to live life ugly. It’s not how I think the world SHOULD work, but it’s how it does. Hell… as much as I’m trying like hell to embrace FA, I’d probably go to great lengths to stop a person from having to go through life fat (especially if it were my child we’re talking about)… not because I think fat is bad, but because I know that the world doesn’t agree. Not sure where that leaves me, but here I am.

  74. @Eucritta: Thanks for your reply. Yeah, I didn’t really want a case-by-case discussion of the scenarios. The scenarios I guess just gave me a way of setting up a contrast between your proposal and Cassi’s to explain how I feel about the subject.

    I agree with Eucritta about being able to choose aspects of your identity as pathological or abnormal can be beneficial. Specifically, I feel that it can be useful to categorize traits as such if you feel that technology is likely to give the person a choice as to whether or not to possess the trait in the near future.

    @Cassi: I agree with the distinction you draw between physical beauty and other forms of beauty. I do believe that, as we get to know people, we find they have personality traits whose contemplation results in a sensation similar to that when one views physical beauty. I also agree that negative personality traits can make someone less beautiful, or even revulsive, in a physical sense. However, I would argue that it is still meaningful to separate them, and that people do (e.g. in discussions of models that are accompanied by photographs). Perhaps it may be helpful to view this physical beauty as the beauty that is evident upon meeting someone for the first time, before you get to know zim.

    –Cassi, the more I read of your views, the more I feel like we have pretty fundamentally similar views on this issue. I, too, would like to see if there are ways to reduce suffering due to ugliness. I guess that’s the big problem I have with the focus of on the beauty of everyone: believing that everyone is physically beautiful has problematic implications for some of the other beliefs that are important to me, and I think that ascribing to that view would lead to some cognitive dissonance for me. For example, it would seem that, if all people were equally physically beautiful (in the absence of societal bias), it would be ethical for a mother to take a medication that induces significant asymmetry in the fetus, so long as it doesn’t have any non-cosmetic implications. I don’t believe that this would be ethical, so I think that physical beauty does have some fairly universal, biologically ingrained characteristics.

    I want to focus on de-emphasizing the effects that beauty has on one’s own self-image and to maximize the ability of all people, regardless of how beautiful they are, to realize their full potential. And, in this regard, I’m optimistic. I think technological innovation is giving fat people, ugly people, and other oppressed peoples more opportunities to follow their dreams and reach their full potential.

Comments are closed.