Kate writes a mash note to Gabourey Sidibe of Precious, who could not be any more fabulous if she was abducted by aliens from the Fabulous Nebula.
The beauty ideal is socially constructed and changes over time.
In 1912, Miss Elsie Scheel of Brooklyn, New York, was deemed the “most nearly perfect specimen of womanhood” among Cornell’s four hundred coeds. Scheel was twenty-four years old, stood five feet seven inches tall, weighed in at a healthy 171 pounds (her favorite food was beefsteak), and possessed a decidedly pear-shaped figure (it measured 35-30-40). Nevertheless, Cornell’s medical examiner […] judged her “the perfect girl,” having “not a single defect” in her physical makeup.
–Lynn Peril, College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Coeds, Then and Now, p. 256*
Miss Elsie Scheel’s BMI would have been 26.8, placing her squarely in today’s dreaded “overweight” category. At Banana Republic, to pick a random contemporary store, she would wear a size 8 top, a 12/14 bottom, and probably a 12 dress with the bust taken in. And she was the “most nearly perfect specimen of womanhood” among 400 young, mostly white women in 1912.
Peril writes that the NYT was citing fashion experts in 1923 — just 12 years later, but in the post-WWI flapper era — who said a 5’7″ inch woman (presumably also white) should weigh 110 pounds and measure 34-22-34. (Also, “The ankle should measure 8 inches” [p. 256]). The NYT did not consult the student body or the medical examiner of Cornell, current or emeritus; one wonders what this group would have made of a 60-pound reduction in specimens of “perfect womanhood.”
*This book merits the Sweet Machine Seal of Snarky Feminist Approval
Please read the post title in a Futurama announcer voice.
Welcome to 2010, Shapelings! Have some links.
Kate takes on the “no fatties” dating site controversy at Broadsheet.
Jezebel’s Jenna discusses V Magazine’s latest plus size fashion shoot, which features back fat and belly rolls! For reals!
Lauredhel talks full body scanners, disability, and privacy at FWD.
Latoya inaugurates “Moff’s Law” at Racialicious, and we are totally copying her on that. It starts so deliciously and just gets better:
Of all the varieties of irritating comment out there, the absolute most annoying has to be “Why can’t you just watch the movie for what it is??? Why can’t you just enjoy it? Why do you have to analyze it???”
If you have posted such a comment, or if you are about to post such a comment, here or anywhere else, let me just advise you: Shut up. Shut the fuck up. Shut your goddamn fucking mouth. SHUT. UP.
Read the whole thing.
Shapelings, this is the first year since Al and I met that we will be spending Christmas at home instead of in Vegas. Since our families are spread all over two countries and we found out that some friends — specifically, Sweet Machine, Ottermatic, their respective partners and Ottermatic’s bestie (hereafter, OTMBFF) — would be kicking around Chicagoland with no other plans, we decided to host Christmas dinner here.
I’ve had friends over for holiday meals a few times before, and whenever I do, I am beset by an uncharacteristic urge to go full-tilt Martha — which, because I’m me and not Martha, inevitably ends in frustration, tears, and inedible gravy (see below). I know I can handle turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, which are all I actually want to eat on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but at some point the socially ingrained Lady Neurosis kicks in, and I decide I need to produce exquisite canapes involving lots of phyllo and a standing rib roast and eleven different vegetables requiring trips to three different ethnic markets and some dessert that demands the purchase of edible flowers, a proper pastry bag and a better oven. Usually, I obsess about building the perfect menu for three or four weeks in advance, then compromise on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and a few new side dish and dessert recipes, only one of which will turn out to be worth the bother.
This year, in part because I’m older and wiser, and in part because we only decided a week ago that we definitely weren’t going to Vegas, I made a conscious decision to knock that shit off and keep it simple. I achieved this by asking myself the following questions before choosing any menu item: 1) Will the taste payoff be greater than the effort expended? 2) Is there any chance at all that my homemade version of this will be better than store-bought? 3) Is the likelihood of my fucking up the recipe greater than the likelihood that we will all be momentarily transported to food heaven?
Shapelings, I can’t tell you how much that simplified my ability to answer the questions that plague me every time I do this. For example:
- Should I brine the turkey? No. (1, 3)
- Should I try covering the turkey with a butter-soaked cheesecloth instead of aluminum foil? Sure, why not. (1)
- Should I make my own pies? No. (1, 2, 3)
- Should I look for exquisite canape recipes or just put out cheese, crackers and fruit? Cheese, crackers and fruit. (1, 3)
- Should I dry, chop and season some whole-grain artisanal bread for stuffing or use a bag of Pepperidge Farm cubes? Pepperidge Farm. (1, 2)
- Should I attempt any recipe for the first time on Christmas and pray that the cooking gods reward my adventurous spirit? Nooooo. (3)
- What can my guests do if they think any of the above shortcuts mean I’m a failure as a hostess and/or woman? Suck it. (1, 2, 3)
It’s a pretty terrific system, but even that doesn’t mean I’m completely free of guilt and fear of judgment. I now present to you — mostly because it’s amusing but also because it reveals the depths of my issues around food, hostessing and other people’s opinions — an e-mail exchange I have had over the last two days with Ottermatic, the other guests and Al. (The only background info you need, apart from the above, is that Al’s contribution to the Christmas meal is a huge bottle of the cheapest possible vodka, filtered with a Brita to [theoretically] make it more like expensive vodka. He and Mr. Machine recently had a conversation about someone somewhere on the internet who tried that and swore it worked, so he decided to give it a whirl.)
OTM: What shall we bring? Wine or other alcohol and what else?
Me (just to her): What I told Sweet Machine when she asked the same thing last night is below:
I went for the simplest possible menu, so it’s pretty well taken care of.
Things I could still use help with, though:
- If one or both of you have any talent for making gravy, awesome. I have never pulled it off, so I bought a thing of turkey gravy mix just in case, but if one of you is confident that you can make real pan gravy at game time, the job is yours.
- I can practically guarantee I’ll need someone to run to 7-11 for shit I forgot, so that is another volunteer opportunity.
- Solly will need extra snuggles to keep him out from under my feet.
Other than that, I can’t think of anything.
OTM: I will certainly take turns snuggling Solly, but I can also make gravy! Do you have chicken broth, flour, and butter?
Me: I do have all those things! HOORAY FOR GRAVY!
I have no idea why I am incapable of getting the ratio of flour to fat right, but history has shown that I am. The first time I did a holiday meal for friends, I fucked up the gravy so bad I was on the verge of tears until a friend came along and rescued it — but A) I’d already done so much damage that the rescue effort demanded extreme measures, and B) it was a Swedish friend, so the gravy ultimately involved red wine and cranberries and I dunno, Aquavit and mid-century furniture or something, so it was far from the old reliable midwestern taste I’d envisioned when I decided that cooking a bunch of shit I’d never tried to make before for 12 people was a REALLY GOOD IDEA. So from that I learned to A) make sure I had a jar of gravy or packet of gravy mix on hand and B) ask in advance if anyone else would like to take on gravy-making from start to finish.
FYI, I just investigated the flour situation, and I do have a mostly full container of Wondra “sauces and gravies” flour (which I bought ages ago thinking perhaps all-purpose flour was my gravy downfall, but I’ve never actually used it for anything except breading chicken breasts, like, twice). It expires in about two weeks, and I just realized the top was slightly open, so air’s been getting at it for however long, but it does not appear to be buggy. That is ALL YOURS if you want it — I honestly don’t know if the air thing is a real problem. If it is, you might want to bring flour.
OTM: I don’t think that exposing flour to air is bad, as long as it’s not exposed to bugs. I find ingredients in the back of our one, small kitchen cupboard that are expired and use them anyway all the time because the alternative is to buy a new package and then let that expire. I don’t know. I’m pretty cavalier about food safety. Which isn’t to say I’m going to put raw chicken in the gravy or anything, just that I am not afraid of your flour.
Me: I am similarly cavalier about food safety (there will, in fact, be raw chicken in the mashed potatoes, which will be served in a dented can), but I never want to admit that to other people, for fear they will judge me and never accept an invitation to dine in my home again.
This is sort of similar to the conversation I had with OTMBFF, in which he asked what was missing from the menu that he might bring, and I went, “Green vegetable?” and he was like, “Uh, do people really EAT green vegetables, other than green bean casserole, at holiday meals?” At which point I had to admit that no, they do not in my family (and I was never a huge fan of green bean casserole), but I am always afraid of being judged for just serving turkey and 7 kinds of carbs held together by fat instead of ensuring that my guests get as many phytonutrients as possible. Even though there’s a reason why carbs and fat with a side of protein is the traditional holiday meal, which is that it fucking TASTES GOOD, and it’s supposed to be a FEAST of things that TASTE GOOD, and I should probably reread that book by Marianne Kirby and what’s-her-name.
OTM: You should read it! It’s very good.
Me (to group): OTM has volunteered to make gravy. Sweet Machine, you are now in charge of Solly snuggling.
Mr. Machine: I’ll take care of the cycling of oxygen into CO2.
Al: Also, bring barf bags, because we have a lot of really cheap vodka to taste test. I’m afraid, not even sure if I can go through with it. Mr. Machine, we bought a virgin smaller bottle of Skol for comparison’s sake.
We have a whole bunch of wine and other stuff, vodka, gin, whiskey, not sure what else, so if you’re not fussy, I’m sure we are covered on the beverages.
Me: Oh, we also have rum and eggnog, because it’s one of those things I think I should have, even though people rarely end up drinking it.
Al: Let’s invent a drink that uses eggnog, rum, Skol vodka, and 3 kinds of gin. Served with an olive float.
Me: We’ll call it a “Divorcetini.”
OTM: I’ll bring two barf bags.
So, to recap: Despite all my long-term efforts to stop moralizing about food and my determination to make this particular meal as stress-free as possible, I remain neurotic about 1) my gravy-making abilities, 2) the possibility that I will realize I forgot something at the last minute, even though we’ll still have enough food and booze for 25 people, 3) a meal I borked 10 years ago, 4) the quality of my flour, 5) being judged for my willingness to use questionable flour, 6) being judged for not providing a more balanced holiday feast, and 7) disappointing a hypothetical guest who really wanted rum and eggnog on Christmas, even if there are 95 other things to drink. And sadly, this is progress.
With that, I am going to go make everything I can possibly make in advance, then sit down with a glass of wine and remind myself that the point of all this is hanging out with good friends, not getting an A+ in Traditional Feminine Duties. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, Merry Day Off to those who don’t, and Happy Day After Festivus to all — please feel free to air your grievances in comments.
Shapelings, it’s the holidays in a big chunk of the world, and we’re betting you won’t be reading as often and we won’t be writing as often, either. We may pop up an open thread or two, but we don’t have as much time to mod as usual, so please be patient and play nice in the meantime.
Yaaaaaaaaaaaawn. This is almost, but not quite, so weary-eyeroll-inducing that it’s not worth the effort of typing it all out. (And the “almost” caveat is due entirely to my gleeful anticipation of the snarky Shapeling comments to follow.)
So first, Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams writes this about an ad campaign to designed to get British dudes to eat breakfast at Burger King.
Now, I know you’ll all be thunderstruck to discover that the campaign is a comic and creative kersplat. (Something about how you visit a website and then you get to see a woman in a shower wiggle at you with eggs on her boobs, and then you want breakfast sausages, I don’t know.) Equally unsurprisingly, Williams’ send-up of the ad is vastly more entertaining and clever than the campaign itself.
I could go all blah blah blah offensive blah blah blah objectification of women blah blah blah nice nod to your voyeur pervs here, and in fact I will, but first, a reminder. We are all for sexy and witty and clever here. This, however, is not that. This is softcore to peddle hash browns…
Here’s what really sticks in our craw like soggy onion rings, though: A Burger King spokesman told Advertising Age yesterday, “Our research showed that breakfast is a male-centric audience for Burger King; it doesn’t resonate as well with women — we are targeting the people who are buying breakfast.” In other words, sod off, wenches. You are mere bits shakers in the King’s eyes, here to dance and sing with fried eggs on your boobs because we tell you to….We’re busy reaching out to the fan base who can associate our products with their morning spank routine.
Reading that was fun, right? “Sticks in our craw like soggy onion rings”? “Sod off, wenches”!? Yes! Delightful! And correct! And, probably, all that needs to be said on the matter.
Except here comes Dan Mitchell from Big Money, rolling in on the Mansplain Express.* See, he likes Williams’ Salon piece too. Likes it so much, in fact, that now he’s going to instruct the rest of us in what it really means. Which, it turns out, is not all that close to what Williams actually, um, said. Citing the Salon piece approvingly, he says:
Exactly right. The problem here isn’t really sexism, but stupidity…. [T]he campaign is at least equally offensive to men, and perhaps more so. It assumes, as usual, that men are idiots, that they’ll somehow be drawn to greasy, horrid breakfast foods by some vacuous wet girl dancing in a bathing suit on the Web.
If some buffoon is sitting in front of a computer, pants down around his ankles, directing a woman in a shower to do his bidding, which of the two parties should feel more humiliated and exploited? At least the woman, presumably, is being paid.
Oh God. Dan Mitchell, the internet tells me you are some kind of official smart person, an expert on economics. Here’s an econ word problem for you. Let’s say that a whole bunch of people are taught to behave foolishly and ignorantly toward you, Dan Mitchell. They learn this in school. They get mentored in it by others. They are instructed in it in their houses of worship. Everywhere people go, they see messages that amount to, “Hey, everyone! Whenever Dan Mitchell comes around or is the subject of conversation, let’s behave like immature, entitled, condescending, snickering, arrogant, leering assholes.”
And some people REALLY take the message to heart, and some people don’t, and some people are ambivalent, and some people don’t see what the big deal is or deny that such messages exist. Okay? Still with me?
Do you think, within that scenario, you could find — indeed, might like and/or need to find — a way to turn that to your economic advantage? (Even if that means that some stranger might pompously call you… oh, ‘vacuous’ say?) Me too.
Do you think that your doing so would mean that you’re responsible for turning some people into immature, entitled, condescending, snickering, arrogant, leering assholes? Me neither.
In this scenario, is it worth noting TO WHOM people are being taught to behave like jackasses? Or is it only pertinent THAT they’re being taught to behave jackasses, and are thus clearly oppressed by some jackassery-making machine? No, you go ahead and think hard about that one. We’ll wait.
I’d add more layers and more complexity, but I’m not convinced you’re ready for them. If you’re nice, the readers of Shapely Prose might bother to school you in the comments. I don’t know, though — their time doesn’t come cheap, and it’s possible that many of them are too busy earning millions a year not being oppressed.
*-Typing “Mansplain Express” caused me to envision a douchebags-on-roller-skates Andrew Lloyd Weber extravaganza. This is possibly the best idea I’ve ever had in my life.
I like to think of myself as thoughtful gift giver, but after spotting The New York Times gift giving guide, I might have to reconsider. The New York Times has thoughtfully created a separate – but equal – guide guaranteed to other your friends of color in style.
As Gawker puts it:
So, if that special someone says, “This year, what I’d really is stuff that focuses exclusively on my race, with little to not attention to my interests or our personal relationship, other than your horror with the fact that I am not white,” here’s NYT’s guide to “gifts created for and by people of color this holiday season,” including a “Wise Latina” tee-shirt and The Mocha Manual to Military Life: A Savvy Guide for Wives, Girlfriends and Female Service Members.
Relax, there are no Sambo print tablecloths. That’s not what’s going on here. Racism isn’t always dressed in the white sale collection from JcPenney. What is going on here is the covert form of racism, which seeks to reaffirm POC status as the other. The gifts aren’t horrible, but they also cannot anticipate the preferences of ALL POCs.
It’s one thing to create a gift guide based on some other unifying characteristic – like a guide for foodies. Granted, the guide probably wouldn’t be comprehensive enough to satisfy every food enthusiast, but it’s unlikely your hypothetical foodie friend would scoff when presented with a set of mixing bowls.
On the other hand, I would very much be offended if presented with a book like say – The Conversation: How Black Men and Women Can Build Loving, Trusting Relationships by Hill Harper (featured in the guide) – especially since its very inclusion makes some problematic assumptions.
When I give diversity presentations these are kinds of examples I use to demonstrate the insidious ways racism is woven into the very fabric of our society. This guide, while seemingly harmless, is in fact reductive.
And Gawker again:
It’s a celebration of the racist assumption that “people of color” are defined by their colors—but white people get to self-define with their interests, hobbies, and desire for “Home and Decorating Gifts for $25 and Under.”
Yeah, I’ll take a hot bag of no thanks on that. Bring on the mixing bowls!
Shapelings, let’s talk fatness in young adult fiction. YA fiction often positions fat as shorthand for countless negative qualities the writer is too unmotivated to develop – like presenting bullies as fat kids, which reinforces fatness as something sinister and deserving of scorn – or as the genesis of a butterfly story, which reinforces fat as a quality one must jettison to uncover the true self (which naturally is thin and beautiful). Of course there are other ways in which fatness is portrayed, but those two immediately came to mind.
In Blubber by Judy Blume – which I strongly advocate avoiding; it isn’t worth the Sanity Watcher Points – fat bodies are used as a learning opportunity for others, devoid of input of those with lived experiences.
The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger is a fairly sympathetic and complex exploration of fatness, despite the protagonist being problematically framed as “smart, but overweight”.
The marginally empowering messages presented in The Cat Ate My Gymsuit go completely to hell in its follow up There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, where the protagonist realizes the FoBT complete with popularity and a cute boyfriend.
Other books off the top of my head:
Have you read any of these titles? What do you remember about how fatness was presented in the YA fiction you read? How did the portrayal of fatness or lack thereof inform your relationship to your own fat?
You’ve all probably seen The Twilight Saga: New Moon in lolcats already, but in case you somehow missed it, you should click on that link right now. It’s especially hilarious if you know the plot (which, sadly, I do — I read the first two books, trying to get a handle on what everyone loved about them so much, before I gave up), but I think Al enjoyed it almost as much as I did, with only “She has to choose between a vampire and a werewolf” as context.
Beyond that, I’ll call this an open thread, but please keep it relatively light. We’re short a couple moderators, and those of us who are around right now can’t be here every minute, so if this thread pisses me off half as much as the last one, I’ll close it a lot faster.