Just a reminder

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

Friday fluff: What the what?

FJ, in searching for something totally different in Wikimedia Commons, stumbled across the following picture:

Explain this, if you dare

Shapelings, here is your Friday fluff: explain this picture. Please note: explanations should not be based on research or actual knowledge.

Items… Of … Interest!

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.

Notes toward an elegy: In praise of food

First rule of nutrition: eat or die.

Second rule of nutrition: there are no other rules.

My mother died two weeks ago. She had been deeply ill — dying for so long, so slowly. What we knew would one day happen did: she lost the ability to eat. She had a stroke that made it difficult for her to swallow, to make all those muscles in the mouth and throat cooperate; eating made her so tired — it took so much work — that she would fall asleep after half a cup of yogurt or ice cream. Her body would then work so hard to digest that tiny amount of food that she’d run a fever, every resource she had working at doing what we all try to do every day: eat enough to live. She had food available; she had trained medical help; it was just that her body faced that rule, eat or die, and made a different choice than it had before.

What food she could eat, for those few moments of wakefulness, clearly gave her pleasure. Her diet in her last weeks was ice cream, yogurt, pie filling, milkshakes — anything smooth enough to swallow easily and sugary enough to make it fun. She liked the sweet tastes on her tongue. The food she ate wasn’t to stay alive but rather to provide bodily pleasure as she slipped away. Food, like the liquid morphine she took several times a day, gave her relief from the work of dying. Eat, or die.

My mom was one of the few people in my life who never made me feel ashamed to like food. She taught me and my brothers how to bake cookies and always let us lick the bowl and wooden spoon afterwards. When I was 12 and had my tonsils out, she put me on the aforementioned ice-cream-and-milkshake regimen and read Nancy Drew books to me when I was too tired to read them myself. She knew that food was something that made us live and gave us joy: we eat, and we die, so eat well.

She was a good mother; she loved me — she loved the actual, living world — unconditionally. There are no other rules.

The Embiggening

My first post here was about a radical bodily change I was undergoing (drastic weight loss due to an undiagnosed medical condition) and how it made me think about myself, my body, and my visibility as a woman. I shrank, quickly and unintentionally, and the experience reaffirmed my commitment to FA, because people praised me so lavishly for something that was both not under my control and actually a symptom of, well, misery. I was constantly reminded of the strange world of thin privilege: my clothes no longer fit, which was dispiriting and embarrassing — but when I walked into a store I could just buy a skirt, right off the rack, just like that! (That first skirt, I’m telling you, I am still amazed over two years later.) My body felt different in certain ways (chairs felt different; I got cold more easily) but not in others (my rack still got in the way of everything; I still had the same proportions, only narrower). I had crossed the line of cultural acceptability (as I had before in my life, but without the perspective of feminist theory and FA); I was through the looking-glass, almost literally.

Now I’m back on the other side. For the last year, a change in medications has both improved the state of my rebellious organs and caused weight gain as a standard side effect. I’m back around where I started, in the inbetweenie range, with an “overweight” BMI and a cartoony-sounding bra size. And you know what? I’m happy about it. Because I feel so much better than I did when I was thinner. Any negative thoughts I start to have about my fatter body — and we all have them, because we’re trained to — are outweighed by the positive thoughts I have about, say, being able to eat cheese again without dire consequences.

This is not to say that there haven’t been things that were difficult about gaining a bunch of weight. I want to make it very clear that here I am speaking from a position where, “overweight” or not, I still retain a lot of thin privilege: doctors still listen to me (so far), people don’t demonize me to my face or on the news, I can still shop in some straight stores (to give just a few examples). Interestingly, the only person who’s commented on my fatter body so far (as contrasted to the people constantly commenting on my thinner body) is a good friend who knows why I was losing so much weight before — and her comment was that she was glad to see me looking healthier. (Okay, to be fair, Mr Machine has also commented that my rack has gotten, uh, more substantial.) The point I’m trying to reach, here, is that between my still-not-that-fat privilege and my gradual shedding of weight-obsessed or non-feminist friends over the last few years, people haven’t given me shit for gaining weight. (I’m sure my grandparents would have had some strong opinions, but dead men tell no tales, right?) I will tell you exactly what has caused me the most grief in the process of fattening up: my bras. Oh, and my boots. And my pants and belts. In other words: the clothes, the manufactured things, the objects. (But I have been patiently updating my wardrobe to keep up with my hips — and this week, I finally got some new bras (thank you Figleaves clearance!), and my world is suddenly a hundred times sunnier.)

Here’s what was not difficult or irksome about getting fatter: my body. My reflection. My shape. Losing sight of my hipbones. Noticing a fold of flesh return to my back. Watching my profile change, take up more room in the mirror. Feeling more of me moving around. I like me. I don’t mind having more of me, as long as I can afford to clothe more of me. There is no absolute value to any body size. There is no line on your mirror saying “If your hips touch this, your body is wrong.” My body’s not wrong now, and it wasn’t wrong before. It’s my body, and now that I live with respect for it, I don’t dread or thrill to its changes in size.

In that first post, way back when, I wrote this:

Right now, I’m a lot thinner than I’m used to being. Temporarily, I’m feeling a disconnect between the “real me” and the “representation of me.” But maybe I’ll stay at this weight, and I’ll realign my self-conception; maybe instead of a chubby healthy person, I’ll be a thinnish person with a medical condition. I’ll adjust. I’ll be good to myself. Maybe my health will improve again, and I’ll gain back those 20 pounds and more. I’ll adjust. I’ll be good to myself. I’ll remember that this body I live in is me and not a container or disguise or symbol for me. How will I do it? I’ll start right here.

Thanks for helping me be good to myself, Shapelings. I drink to you tonight.

Open thread

Have at it, Shapelings. I’m using all my words for dissertating today and my co-bloggers are using theirs for their paid jobs. Fluffcation rules do not apply on this thread: feel free to talk about what you want and get as controversial as you feel, so long as you abide by the Comments Policy.

Speaking of which, there has been a trend recently (mostly not from regulars) for commenters to say “I know you said this thread is closed, but” or “I know you said to take this threadjack to Ning, but” or “I know you said this thread is fluff only, but” and then to go ahead and say whatever thing they would have said anyway. To which I say: what the living fuck? This is not a discussion board. (This is.) This is a blog, and we moderate the shit out of it. You don’t have to like every decision we make, but you do have to respect it. It’s not about disagreeing; it’s about respecting the work we put in here. And hey, if you don’t respect that work? You don’t get to comment, though heaven knows why you’d want to anyway.

End of lecture. Open thread!