Once More With Feeling: We Already Know We’re Fat

kateiconZuzu sent me a link to the latest Schott’s Vocab post at the NYT, this one examining the phrase “fat gap.” Ben Schott points out that the phrase “has also been used to describe disproportionately high obesity rates among the poor, and the differing levels of obesity in different ethnic groups in Washington D.C.,” but here, he’s talking about how it’s used it in yet another article about yet another survey showing obese people are too stupid to know we’re obese. Says the Telegraph: “They are suffering from a new phenomenon dubbed ‘the fat gap’ which has blurred public perception of what is a healthy weight.”

Schott also quotes BBC health reporter Clare Murphy on the matter:

The findings appear to be fresh evidence of a phenomenon that health professionals have long suspected: as those around us get fatter, our perceptions of our own size change accordingly.

No, our perceptions of our own size are not the problem here; our perceptions of the size that constitutes clinical obesity is, and there are some damned good reasons for that. Murphy even touches on one of them — “pictures of children too fat to toddle or the adults so large they need to be hoisted from his house have transformed obesity into a freak show” — but still doesn’t quite connect all the dots.

Let’s review. As Fillyjonk said earlier this month:

This so-called epidemic is not made up of theoretical fucking people who are just as fat as you can possibly imagine. It’s made up of people you see every day AND WHO YOU PROBABLY THINK ARE “NOT FAT.”

It is also, of course, made up of the very fat people held up as “freaks,” and plenty of people in between, but the fact remains that in the U.K., as with the U.S., the majority of obese people have a BMI between 30 and 35. Which means that if they don’t know they’re clinically obese, it’s probably because they’ve never calculated their BMI, they look nothing like the media’s image of obesity, and they’ve constantly got people telling them they’re not even fucking fat.

That’s a sore spot for me, as you know, and I’ve been getting it more than usual lately. Jezebel commenters, journalists, anyone new I mention my work to — “Wait, I don’t get it. You don’t look fat to me!” My sister J’s first comment on the Chatelaine spread: “Guaranteed to garner plenty of ‘you’re not even fat’ comments!”  And the sad thing is, I’d already had the same thought. I am thisclose to making myself a skintight “This is what obesity looks like” T-shirt.

And it’s not even like I’m borderline obese. My BMI is about 35, based on my best guess of what I weigh right now (low 190s). So in fact, the only border I am on is that of obese class 2. I am, in fact, more obese than most obese people in this country. So is Fillyjonk. So is Joy Nash (at the high end of class 1, being 1 lb. heavier and 1 inch taller than class 2 FJ). So is Coco. So is Slay Belle. So is Shannon. Are you getting the picture?

I say this, as always, not to make fatter fats feel like freaks (of whom we are quite fond anyway), but to clarify why a reasonable person might be confused about the clinical definition of obesity, and just who makes up this epidemic we’re constantly hearing about. The reporters telling us that of 2000 people surveyed, 25% were obese but only 7% knew it, really seem to believe that’s because fatties are looking around at other fatties and going, “Well, gosh, I don’t look that bad, so I must not really be fat.” They don’t ever  consider that people who are class 1 obese — once again, most obese people — almost certainly realize they’re some value of “fat” but might not realize they’re over the “obese” threshold because the visual definition of “obese” they’re usually offered by THE SAME GODDAMNED MEDIA OUTLETS refers only to a tiny percentage of the population.

Oh, Murphy sort of acknowledges that, but here’s how:

The focus on the extreme in television documentaries about the very large but also in the pictures that are chosen to illustrate articles about obesity have also been held up as another potential culprit.

“If you see people with BMI of over 50, say, and you have a BMI of 40 then you may well think you aren’t too bad,” says Dr Krystyna Matyka of the University of Warwick Medical School.

OK, first, I’d just like to point out that the illustration for this very article is a close-up of belly rolls and the caption “Apparently we do not know what’s normal anymore.” Second, without knowing for sure how the stats broke down, I can almost guarantee you that the problem is not people with a BMI over 40 failing to recognize that they’re obese; it’s THE MAJORITY OF OBESE PEOPLE, WHO ARE MUCH THINNER THAN THAT.

So instead of actually teaching anyone what “obese” more commonly looks like, studies and articles like this merely reinforce the stereotype that fat people are not only ignorant but delusional. Instead of imagining people who look like Angelos or Ginny being unaware that they’re on the threshold of clinical obesity, or people like Cassie and Delilah not realizing they’ve already crossed it, the average reader imagines the headless, dehumanized, extremely fat person in the picture standing in front of a mirror, making finger guns and going, “How you doin’, slim?” Which serves the purpose of amping up discrimination against “ignorant” fat people quite well, but doesn’t actually do a goddamned thing to help the majority of obese people recognize that they qualify as such, which is supposed to be the point here, isn’t it?

Problem is, actually talking about people with a BMI just over 30 not realizing they’re officially obese, when most people wouldn’t realize it about them, either, would make it really hard to advance the thesis that fat people are idiots who lie to themselves! It’s much easier to stay vague about exactly who, among obese folks, doesn’t know it, and then “support” your thesis with lines like this:

Over half of those deemed morbidly obese believed they ate a healthy diet, while more than a third of the overweight said they had never tried to shed the pounds.

It’s not possible, of course, that over half of those deemed morbidly obese actually are eating a healthy diet. Calories in, calories out, people! Clearly, more than 50% of really fat people just DON’T KNOW THAT ALL THOSE DOUGHNUTS ARE BAD FOR THEM. Never mind that we have no idea who they are, what they’re eating, how much they exercise, or what sort of medical problems they have. Never mind that most fat people eat about the same amount as most thin people. As always, the important thing is to insist that the fattest fatties obviously know squat about nutrition and/or routinely lie to themselves about what goes in their mouths. And how about all those overweight people who have never even tried dieting — how crazy is that? I mean, just because they might look like Jessica or Kate or Meg and Jeffrey, just because they might not have been “overweight” at all before the threshold was lowered from 27 to 25, WHERE DO THOSE FATASSES GET OFF NOT EVEN DIETING?

Oh hey, speaking of which, did I mention that this is all based on an internet poll done  by market research firm YouGov for a company called Slimming World? Murphy, to her credit, does mention that. But it doesn’t stop her from ending the article with this quote from Dr. Susan Jebb of the Human Nutrition Research Laboratory of the Medical Research Council:

Everybody knows obesity is a problem for the nation, but they don’t accept it’s a problem for them – as this latest survey shows. We need to give people the confidence to recognise that it is problem, and that it’s one they can do something about.

We can totally do something about it! Like go to Slimming World! If only we have the confidence to recognize how problematic our fat is.  And of course we totally won’t gain it back within five years or fuck up our health along the way!

Now, back to that line about the morbidly obese delusionally believing they don’t eat poorly, and the overweight having the gall not to diet at all. You’ll note that there’s no mention whatsoever of the people most likely to misjudge themselves as non-obese, i.e. — sing it with me now — the majority of obese people. Do you see the bait and switch there? The story is ostensibly about obese people not even realizing how dangerously fat we are, but the examples given are of A) some obese people who surely do know they’re obese saying they eat healthfully, which is probably fucking true, and B) clinically overweight people choosing not to diet, which is probably because they’re not fucking fat (and/or they’re bright enough to realize diets don’t work).

This story says absolutely nothing about the majority of obese people, specifically. Meanwhile, 7% of those surveyed did, in fact, properly categorize themselves as obese — which happens to be a bit higher than the total percentage of morbidly obese people, suggesting that that group does, in fact, know bloody well that they qualify as obese (as do some people with a BMI lower than 40). So why are we talking about delusional death fats again? There’s also no mention of how the other obese folks categorized themselves, but I’m gonna go ahead and guess that most, if not all of them, would have gone with “overweight,” because fat people know we’re fucking fat, even if we don’t all know exactly where the BMI cut-offs are.

That just doesn’t sound nearly as good as “Apparently we do not know what’s normal anymore.”

Let me fix that for you, E. Jean

So I just ended up on Elle magazine’s website, in search of an interview with Lorrie Moore. Along the way, I stumbled onto E. Jean’s advice column, wherein she answers the age-old question: “What do I do now that my spouse has gotten fat and I’m no longer attracted to hir?”

Every advice columnist gets it. None of them ever fucking get it right. Here, E. Jean starts strong(ish) , but manages to get it even wronger than usual.

The particulars of this story involve a woman who’s no longer turned on by her fat hubby. She’s tried to be “supportive” — meaning she’s cheered on weight loss efforts — but he’s still a fatty fat fat, and she doesn’t want to fuck him. That’s a pretty standard set-up, and let me pause here to offer what I believe should be the obvious answer every time that standard set-up appears in an advice column:

Dear Not Attracted to Your Spouse Anymore,

Get over it or get a fucking divorce. And I truly mean you should consider both options seriously. If you believe it is actually possible for you to get over it — by which I mean, you find a way to reframe the way you look at your fat partner, find him attractive again, and go back to whatever you both agree is a normal sex life — then by all means, work on that (provided everything else in the marriage is good and worth saving, which it probably isn’t if you’re not even a little bit attracted to him anymore).

If, however, you’re so hung up on your partner’s weight that you can’t even conceive of being attracted to him anymore? Get a fucking divorce already. And I don’t just mean that because your partner deserves better than your shallow ass, though he probably does. Believe it or not, I think you deserve better, too — or, perhaps more accurately, you deserve different. Everyone who wants to be in a relationship where mutual physical attraction is a core part of the deal should have the freedom to pursue that goal. Nobody should have to have sex with someone who repulses them (and certainly, nobody should have to have sex with someone who’s repulsed by them). The downside of ending it is that people like me might call you shallow. The upside is, both you and your current partner might be able to find fulfillment with someone better for you. So suck it up, accept that you’re the kind of person who can’t be attracted to a fatty even if you’d like to think you’re better than that, and cut him loose. Neither of you should have to endure a sexless marriage if either of you is not OK with that bargain.

Did you notice how I didn’t include badgering him to lose weight as an option there? Yeah. That really doesn’t work, as you’ve already gathered, or you wouldn’t be writing for advice. Not only are you unlikely to succeed in getting the thin hubby of your dreams that way, but you’ll be fostering mutual resentment out the wazoo, which doesn’t put anybody in the mood. So scratch that.

Work on figuring out how to change the way you see him or get a fucking divorce. That’s it.



That, as I said, is my standard response to the standard question. This question, however, goes on to become somewhat less standard:

He wants sex regularly, and I don’t want it—at all! When I explain why, he gets very angry and says if you love someone, it doesn’t matter what he looks like. Occasionally, I’ll let him “use” my body to appease him so he’ll stop arguing and yelling. I hate doing this. It makes me feel like I’m being violated. Is there something wrong with me? Should I still want to have sex with my husband?

As I said, E. Jean’s answer starts fairly strong, the expected fatphobic language and a bit of eye-rolling disdain for “political correctness” notwithstanding:

Sheets, my sweet: Let me get this straight: An “angry” 300-pounder is “arguing” you into sex and you say it feels like you’re “being violated”? No, Miss Sad, that is not a “violation.” That is an immolation. Divorce him. I realize it’s politically incorrect these days to tell a wife to table her spouse because of his weight, but it’s your husband’s anger and his colossal unkindness (you don’t want sex; he forces you to) that are the true reasons you never uttered the word love in your letter.

YES. THIS. (Minus aforementioned irritations.) I don’t give a shit if you’re a fatphobe or any other kind of -phobe or -ist that suggests you’re the kind of person I wouldn’t want to hang out with. If your husband’s demanding sex, and you don’t want it but feel like you can’t refuse, go directly to the “get a fucking divorce” option, because no one deserves that. And that is indeed the real problem in your marriage, not his fat ass.

But E. Jean does not stop there. Instead, she finishes off with this:

Take the man to a physician who specializes in weight loss, encourage him to lighten up; then, if he does not treat you with tenderness and respect, get rid of him.

I’m sorry, WHAT? This woman just told you she’s being coerced into sex, she feels violated, and your advice is TRY HARDER TO HELP HIM LOSE WEIGHT AND SEE HOW IT GOES? Because weight loss might magically make a pushy asshole who’s more interested in getting off than noticing his wife’s distinct lack of enthusiastic consent turn tender and respectful? What the everloving fuck?

Honey, if you are “letting” him fuck you because you feel you are not allowed to say no, that’s called rape. It is not “politically incorrect” to get the hell out of a relationship with a rapist before exhausting every effort to help him lose weight. It’s really not. You can dump that motherfucker with the Queen of the Fat-o-sphere’s seal of approval.

And as I indicated above, if you are similarly disgusted by your fat partner, yet not being raped or otherwise abused? You can also dump hir with my seal of approval — on the decision, if not necessarily on your character. The sad fact is, yes, being unable to see past fat on an otherwise loving, fabulous partner might just make you the shallow shithead you fear you are — and I do say “might,” because honestly, I can’t explain people’s preferences, and I don’t know you, maybe you’ve just got a really strong “type” that doesn’t happen to be fat. But maybe you are, in fact, a shallow shithead — I’m not going to sit here and tell you there’s no chance you are, and you should feel 100% guilt-free about trashing a good person who loves you, just because you think fat is icky. What I will tell you is, it doesn’t matter if you’re a shallow shithead or a delightful, compassionate person with an insurmountable sexual preference for thinness that happens to be deeply unfortunate given your current circumstances, because you will be that way whether you stay or go. If you simply cannot fathom being able to adjust your definition of “attractive” to encompass your own partner’s appearance, then going is the only option that gives both of you the opportunity to find a healthy relationship — i.e., one with somebody else.

This is not rocket science, but it almost always seems to elude advice columnists. Just as nobody wants to be the person who dumped the fatty for being fat, nobody (except Dan Savage*) wants to be the columnist who says, “Yeah, it’s OK, dump the fatty for being fat.”  But it is, for the simple reason that if you are in a shitty relationship that’s manifestly going nowhere, it is OK to end it, whether your reasons are noble or shit-headed. Because ending it might just make it better for everyone involved, notably the fatass you married, who gets the not insubstantial perk of no longer living with someone who finds hir repulsive.

How fucked up is it that the typical advice columnist’s fear of saying that — if you’re not remotely attracted to fat people, don’t fucking date/stay married to them — combined with the pervasive notion that fat people are helpless, undisciplined blobs in need of rescue, can actually lead to the advice: “Take him to a doctor about the weight and see if that makes him stop raping you”? Sweet Jesus, y’all. I am going to go find myself a cocktail now.

*BTW, have I mentioned that Savage recently, no shit, paid me a public compliment?

Whom we talk to when we talk about fat

I would really love to ignore PETA, just in general, and their latest fat-hating billboard in particular.


But there’s something about this one I haven’t yet seen addressed in the various denunciations of it*: the language. Specifically, that the “lose the blubber” bit is talking to fat people, but the “SAVE THE WHALES” bit is talking about us.

So it’s not only that it’s complete bullshit that vegetarianism = thinness, as the many fat vegetarians and vegans in this community know too well. It’s that they’re furthering the idea that thin people have a duty to stop fat people from being fat, even though the solution they propose could not remotely effect that change anyway. The point of the billboard, in theory, is to tell fat folks to go veg and “save” ourselves, one by one. But that’s not what it fucking says. It says “save the whales” — as if, once again, fat people are a problem to be solved, not actual individual human beings capable of caring for our own damn selves.

The following line might indicate that it’s a campaign aimed at fat people, suggesting that vegetarianism would make us thin and therefore improve our lives (both specious premises, even setting aside the wisdom of trying to appeal to a demographic by insulting it), but the overall message is clearly aimed at people who are not fat. People who hate, fear, and ridicule fat. People who, in their most “charitable” moments, assume we’re a bunch of ignorant slobs who need to be rescued from our own lack of discipline, because they can’t be bothered to think about fatness in anything but the most simplistic and prejudiced terms.

In other words, the language doesn’t make any fucking sense. If you’re talking about the “whales,” not to us, then there’s no way that a thin person’s individual decision to stop eating meat might “save” us. If you’re talking to us — “lose the blubber!” — then what the hell is the point of recycling a 40-year-old slogan that indicates fatties are not, in fact, whom you’re addressing?  “Whales, save yourselves” would have been far more logical — and clever, for that matter — if no less offensive.

So, basically, this billboard is not merely fat-hating and based on false premises, but completely nonsensical. And in its nonsense, it’s echoing a trend in most of the public discussions of fat, food, and health that take place in this culture — speaking about fat people as if we’re not in the fucking room and have nothing to say on the matter. As if we’re merely a problem for thin people to solve. The only time journalists and advertisers speak to us is when they’re trying to tell us how to lose weight. When they’re discussing THE OBESITY CRISIS in the abstract, then fat people ourselves get abstracted, too — every article and advertisement presumes that the reader/consumer is someone concerned about the existence of fat people, as though fat people aren’t part of the fucking audience.

Which is especially hilarious when half of these discussions start with a reminder that two-thirds of Americans technically qualify as “overweight” or “obese.” I suppose if only the thin third are reading newspapers, that might explain why the industry is dying, but I kinda doubt that’s the whole reason. We’re all just so used to the framing of fatness as “other” that no one bats an eye when people who are actually speaking to fatties only speak about and around us. So the assholes at PETA don’t even notice the logical inconsistency of a directive that goes, “Save the [other]”: “[Take action for yourself.]”

Not that I expect them to notice something that subtle, when they apparently haven’t noticed that fat vegetarians exist, that women are animals deserving of ethical treatment, that immigrants might have greater concerns than potential dietary changes, etc. I mean, railing against PETA is about as useful as railing against right wing radio hosts: There’s no cure for proud jackassery, so you might as well not waste your breath. That’s why in general, I choose to ignore them. But there are a lot of other people out there playing the same game this billboard plays, of humiliating and othering fat people while pretending to be offering us health advice. And some of those people, unlike the PETA folks, might actually have an interest in not being reprehensible fuckwits.

So to them, I say: Fat people are listening when you speak. We read papers and watch news and listen to the radio. We are your fucking audience — two-thirds of it, anyway. So if you’re really so concerned for us, you might try talking to us. You might try recognizing that you are addressing the very people you’re writing about, instead of gearing all of your remarks toward some imaginary audience of The Thin and Deeply Concerned.

I’d suggest that you try listening to us, too, but that might just be too much.

*Note: I started this post a couple of days ago, so people might have made this point 100 times since then. I’m making it again anyway.

Don’t be this boring, ever

Actual sentence appearing on cnn.com today as a caption to a photo:

Jessica Ordona (in white) disliked the fit of her jeans, so she signed up for a class she says addressed the issue.

Dear inhabitants of planet Earth: If you need a special class to make you like the fit of your jeans, YOU ARE WEARING THE WRONG JEANS.

This obviously is infuriating for all the usual FA and feminist reasons, but what’s killing me today is the sheer fucking drabness of a world where people are convinced that instead of thinking creatively about how to dress, they should pay money to sculpt their asses so they can wear the same fucking clothes as everyone else. There is a whole world of creative people out there who look awesome in clothing, and it’s not because they spend five days a week doing ass workouts. It’s because they use their fabulous minds rather than their six-pack abs to decide what to wear.

Don’t like how you look in skinny jeans? For god’s sake, wear something else. Someone profited by convincing you to put on the jeans in the first place; don’t let someone profit off the fact that they don’t fit you now that you have them.

Douchehound of the Day: Satoshi Kanazawa

I’m a little late to this one, but in case anyone missed evolutionary psychologist (really, need I say more?) Satoshi Kanazawa’s devastating takedown of a certain kind of feminist — to wit, the straw kind — at Psychology Today, let me tell you two things about it.

1) The title is “Why Modern Feminism is Illogical, Unnecessary, and Evil.” NO, REALLY.

2) It contains reasoning like the following:

Another fallacy on which modern feminism is based is that men have more power than women.  Among mammals, the female always has more power than the male, and humans are no exception.  It is true that, in all human societies, men largely control all the money, politics, and prestige.  They do, because they have to, in order to impress women.  Women don’t control these resources, because they don’t have to.  What do women control?  Men.  As I mention in an earlier post, any reasonably attractive young woman exercises as much power over men as the male ruler of the world does over women.

Setting aside the ridiculousness of that assertion — for practically infinite reasons, including how heterosexist and indeed anti-male it is (“We all think with our dicks! Amirite? NO-CAPACITY-FOR-HIGHER-ORDER-THINKING-IN-PRESENCE-OF-BOOBIES HIGH FIVE!”) — I’ll just point out the obvious.  You say you’re female but not, for whatever reason, someone generally regarded as a “reasonably attractive young woman”? Fuck you!

I shall not fully fisk (though I’ll certainly have things to add in comments) because I’ve got a busy day ahead, and I’m sure you all can do a more thorough job of it anyway. Gina Barreca gets the fun started here, and I trust this thread will be highly entertaining reading by the end of the day. Go to it, Shapelings.

Oh, and your book sucks, too

Dear Freakonomics Dudes,


The prevalence of obesity rose 37 percent between 1998 and 2006, and medical costs climbed to about 9.1 percent of all U.S. medical costs, the researchers said.

in addition to being a syntactic nightmare, does not equal this:

9.1 percent of all health-care costs are the result of eating and drinking too much

(Emphasis added.)

Y’all like to play with numbers and statistics and pretend that you are being delightfully subversive when really you don’t know causation from correlation. Here’s the thing: fat is a characteristic. Eating and drinking (any amount) are behaviors.

Also, fat people already pay taxes. They also face widespread discrimination from medical professionals and are routinely denied health insurance based solely on their BMI.

Also, you should really go back and take a class in rhetoric, because your headline, “Who’s Ready for a Fat Tax?” would only be appropriate if your audience consisted only of thin people, or, I suppose, if fat people didn’t know how to read.

Fat tax my inbetweenie ass. Fat people already pay a tax for their bodies: it’s called self-hatred and culture-wide scapegoating. Fuck you and the tiny horse you rode in on.


Sweet Machine

An Urgent Message To Shapely Prose Readers

Your attention, please. From Fox News’ Neil Cavuto (won’t dignify it with a link), by way of Talking Points Memo, by way of Jezebel:

Michael Karolchyk — who started the Denver Anti-Gym for the purpose of “getting clients in shape for sex;” who included in said gym an extra-special super-secret sauna for clients below a certain BMI; who idolizes Holden Caulfield (*snicker*… oops, sorry. (*snicker*…SORRY! I’M SORRY!)); who thought it appropriate to wear a “no chubbies” slogan t-shirt when appearing on national television; whose gym was shut down for not paying its taxes; who thereafter couldn’t quite muster the business savvy not to leave his clients’ documents (including credit card numbers) in a dumpster; and who giggles involuntarily if you walk up to him and say “boobies!”* — does not think Regina Benjamin should be the surgeon general.

I knew you’d want to know, so that you could adjust your opinions on the matter accordingly.

Anna N. at Jezebel reports:

Karolchyk says (based, again, on the scientific method of Watching Video Footage) that Benjamin is “lazy” and makes “poor food choices.” He asks if we’d want “the head of the Fed Reserve to be a guy in a cardboard box” or “Michael Jackson’s doctor” as the head of the DEA.

Folks, the comically un-self-aware man-child who is so desperate to feel young and vital that he appears to have willfully resisted outgrowing his years as a middle school bully is right. The mantle of authority is a privilege. Not everyone can enjoy a visible public platform from which to spout his or her opinions on stuff. That kind of space should be given only to those whose personal circumstances show them to be, not only thoughtful and of unimpeachable judgement… but also prosperous, lucky, and in the fickle general public’s good graces.

Thank you to Fox News, and Michael Karolchyk, for this reminder.

*-Astute readers may wonder how I know this. As a matter of fact, I know this because I have magic boobie-giggler vision: I can look at men and magically discern whether they snicker at the mention of boobies. This is a superpower akin to Karolchyk’s super-power of being able to look at people and magically discern how healthy they are. You call it pulling stuff out of one’s ass; Karolchyk and Fox and I call it penetrating insight. Potato, potahto.

Top 10 Subtle Ways to Get Douchehounded on Shapely Prose

Dear AskMen.com Writers (and Readers),

Shame does not make women thin. Not eating makes women obsessed with food, not with your no doubt majestically large dick. Humiliating your girlfriend will not make her want to have sex with you.

If you follow your article’s “subtle” suggestions, you will not end up with a supermodel girlfriend. You will end up with a woman who hates you — or, if your girlfriend isn’t as tragically self-lacerating as you assume she is, you will end up alone.


Shapelings, I’m trying to think of alternate titles for this crapfest of a slideshow. So far:

Top 10 Subtle Ways to Tell Her to Break Up with You

Top 10 Subtle Ways to Reactivate Your GF’s Eating Disorder

Top 10 Subtle Ways to Tell Her You’re a Waste of Skin

Help me out?

I would need a lot more than a Bacardi Breezer to be able to stomach this

Via Jezebel and The F-Word, a nauseating ad campaign from Bacardi (warning: link plays music and also destroys your soul) suggesting we all make ourselves feel prettier…by standing next to an “ugly girlfriend.” That concept right there tells you everything you need to know about what sexist assumptions underwrite these revolting ads: self-esteem is a zero-sum game; the key to feeling good is feeling pretty; you are always in competition with other women for male attention; standard beauty is the only way to be “hot;” women are commodities that you can “get” and trade; and so on. You know the drill; we’ve all been living it all our lives.

What the concept alone doesn’t tell you is what makes these particular women “ugly,” which is, as you can guess, that they each deviate from the beauty ideal in one or two ways. Remember, the following women are supposed to be self-evidently ugly.

Sally's so fat, she's...fat!
Sally's so fat, she's...fat!

The gorgeous hair can't distract you from her very slightly crossed eyes!
The gorgeous hair can't distract you from her very slightly crossed eyes!
My god, the woman wears GLASSES! I may faint.
My god, the woman wears GLASSES! I may faint.
Sure, she's thin and white and bikini-clad, but she looks like a horse, see?
Sure, she's thin and white and bikini-clad, but she limps, for god's sake.
So hideous, she doesn't even get a name.
WOC don't need names or background stories like those white women, right?

This is how the patriarchy and the beauty ideal collude: we are supposed to see these women and be so stunned that they aren’t thin, white, blonde, able-bodied, and perfectly symmetrical that we can only call them ugly. We’re supposed to look at these pictures and say “At least I’m prettier than her.” We’re supposed to view our female friends as accessories in our true life goal, which is to look hot for men. There are hot women, and there are ugly women, and if you’re not the hottest woman in the room, you’re automatically the ugliest.

The appalling part of these ads is not the women; it’s the blatant misogyny. Once you take off your Patriarchy Blinders (patent pending), the charge of “ugly” doesn’t even begin to make sense. If you saw these pictures without any text surrounding them, what would you think of these women? Even with the pernicious text framing them as objects of derision, this ad doesn’t work on me: these women are straight-up pretty. Pretty, stylish, and flirty even. I guess they have some of that self-esteem that’s been going around lately.

Update: Sean-Patrick Hillman of bacardi.com comments below:

June 21, 2009

Thank you for taking the time to post your story regarding Bacardi Breezer.

The campaign you are referring to ran in 2008 for two months in Israel. Even though Bacardi Breezer is not sold or distributed in the United States, we immediately notified the appropriate Bacardi affiliate and had this website shut down.

Bacardi proudly celebrates diversity and we do not endorse the views of this site.

We sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by this site and thank you for bringing it to our attention.

Open thread

So yeah, adding another co-blogger was theoretically supposed to increase frequency of posting, but then A Sarah and Fillyjonk both had the nerve to go out of town and have lives or something, and Sweet Machine and I have both been dealing with shit that keeps us away from the blog, and I got really caught up in following and writing about Dr. Tiller’s murder, and here we are.

So, two things, before I tell you to talk amongst yourselves.

1) Reminder: Marianne and I and Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere contributor/Fatshionista extraordinaire Lesley Kinzel will be reading, signing books, and hanging out at Re/Dress in Brooklyn this Friday night, June 5, starting at 6 p.m. Deets:

Re/Dress NYC
109 Boerum Place
Brooklyn, NY
between Pacific + Dean
f/g train to Bergen Street stop
Shopping at 6:30, reading begins at 8.

Fillyjonk will be there, too, and there will be a dance party afterwards, and refreshments, and all the fatty vintage shopping you can handle. Come on down!

2) This article pissed me off on so many levels, I don’t even want to get started. I’ll just quote from a gchat I had with Fillyjonk yesterday.

FJ : was that the article about how there are fewer plus size fashion shops/lines because of lack of demand?

unlike every other segment of the retail economy, which is just zipping along?

life and style reporters are probably going to be sucking that teat for a while

“demand for popsicles is down!”

“demand for furbies is down!”

me: “demand for newspapers is down!” oh, wait.

[There is some discussion of just posting inflammatory quotes from the article and letting Shapelings have at it.]

me: “For one, plus-size collections are expensive to make—as much as 10% more than standard lines, experts estimate—because they require additional fabrics, and special fit models and patterns.”

SPECIAL fit models and patterns. The other ones are normal, so they don’t count.

Or cost money.

“’They’re really bargain shoppers,’ says Catherine Schuller, a plus-size expert and former editor at Mode, a magazine for larger women. Many are homemakers who can’t spend considerable amounts on clothes and are willing to sacrifice their own spending for their families, especially now, Ms. Schuller says.”

Um, with all due respect to the segment that fits that description, if that’s your understanding of the entire fatty fashion market, maybe I get why Mode failed.

FJ: maybe i should write something

it would have to be really short and horrible

me: And the one that really got me:  “Because these shoppers prefer to buy online, according to industry insiders…”


FJ: aaaaaaaaaaaaa

Me: Which extends to the fact that, if we go to the mall, it’s to see if the one fat store has anything that fits us, so there’s not so much point in going to the damned mall

Whereas people buying straight sizes can go to the mall to try on things at 20 stores.

FJ: right! but no, it must be because WE PREFER TO SIT IN OUR HOUSES AND WALLOW IN SHAME

Me: Also, once again, a company’s marketing fail gets blamed on the market.

How many Shapelings have said, “Wait, Ann Taylor carries up to 18? I had no idea.”


And then no one comes in and buys those sizes, so obvs, the market doesn’t exist

FJ: it’s as though they have to rediscover marketing for the plus-size market

“well, for normal-size people, we make a product and tell them how great it is, and then they buy it”

“for fatties, i think maybe we should try pretending the product doesn’t exist and see how that goes”

me: Ha, no kidding! We’ll cram a couple of plus sizes in the back, never say anything about it, and just wait for the customers to arrive! It’s a plan!

FJ: we’ll be rich! rich!!

me: Also, it’s important to have a deep understanding of the market…

So here’s what you need to know:

They never leave the house. They don’t like to spend money. They don’t want to look attractive.

FJ: they’re unlovable & they eat too much

they probably own one million cats

we did a lot of focus groups

on 4chan

me: HA!

There you go, Shapelings. What else would you add? What else do you want to talk about? Thread is yours.

(Oh, I just realized SM put up a fluff post while I was writing this. Oh well. Now you’ll have TWO threads to muck around in!)