Friday, October 15, 2010

“I really shouldn’t have another slice . . . but why?”

After eating some bad Mexican food once in college and being bedridden for a few days with food poisoning, several of my classmates commented on how much thinner (and “better”) I looked once I returned. Also, I sometimes will lose weight because of the “sick” diet (the faux, accidental diet that occurs when you lose your appetite due to an illness). More recently, after making the huge mistake of gorging on every item at a decadent buffet in Vegas to the point where I began to feel ill, I emerged from the bathroom after having heaved my entire meal and, after concerned friends made sure I was feeling better, they joked about how it was a win-win situation. Not only did I get to enjoy and feast on every fattening item, but I didn’t have to suffer the consequence of the excess calories that would’ve gone straight to my hips. Yes, I was thrilled . . . I guess?

Do men get comments of this nature as often as women? It may be a huge generalization to claim that women are more weight and image conscious than men in general, but hard statistics and facts prove that the majority of those who suffer from eating disorders are female and that society perpetuates a much more stringent standard on what a woman should look like (small waist, skinny face, but shapely breasts and bottom preferably – or the stick-skinny-all-around model physique). These views are not news in this day and age, I know, but what I began to ponder recently is if it’s entirely true and, not to suggest that women are more self-victimizing, but isn’t it slightly unfair to suggest that men don’t suffer similarly with weight and self-image issues? The chubby, overweight, or obese man is not considered, by societal or objective standards, more attractive than the chubby, overweight, or obese woman.

Going even further down this route is a comment my friend made to me recently about how, especially at my age where most of my peers are either dating or in concerned with kind of romantic relationship, when it comes to heterosexual relationships at least, there is often an unequal scale tipped in favor of women on the supply/demand scale. It is arguably easier for a woman of my age to get out there and land herself male affection than it is for a man of my age to receive the same from the opposite sex. If that’s sometimes the case, why is it still that women suffer more commonly from weight and self-image issues?

This is not to suggest even remotely that females are only concerned with their physique and looks to land a Mr. or to receive romantic/sexual validation, but just an explanation to ponder. Of course we’re concerned with the way we look because it contributes to our own self-confidence and self-affirmation. But, aren’t men?

Is it because the smaller a woman’s general physique is, the more attractive she is considered by general societal and media-created standards? While, on the other end of the spectrum, men are encouraged to “bulk up” more if they are scrawnier or skinny, and if they have a higher fat content, it’s not really an issue for them to lose it, but simply to turn it into muscle? If this holds any truth to it at all, it’s just yet another skewed perception that perpetuates the overall concern that feminism is trying to deal with – why more for the man, and less for the woman?


Chez Marta said...

Betty, this is another aspect of the double standard that women are subjected to. Obesity has huge health implications, but middle-class women tend to only worry about the effect of their perceived fatness on their attractiveness (or lack thereof).

Studies suggest that obesity is higher among lower-income Americans, because of the particular choices of food available to us in this First World country. But studies also suggest that the correlation between lower income and obesity is stronger for women than for men, see

Looking into these statistics shows that for women, being fat also signals being poor... holding down two or three jobs, scarfing down fast food between shifts, and so on. Accordingly, perhaps we are worried about our looks because it signifies our socioeconomic status. Signaling that we are of higher socioeconomic status is important, especially for women in the dating pool, because we want to marry upwards... or at least that's what our mothers told us to do!

2elle said...

Although the feminist movement has made great progress in many areas, society's treatment of a woman's body image has, in my opinion, not improved at all... if anything, it's gotten worse since the 50's when a fuller figure was viewed in a positive way.

This is something that's annoyed me for a long time. My experiences are similar to Betty's - after I lost a lot of weight because of a bad breakup, all of my female family friends commented on how great I looked. The sad thing was that I only looked "great" (i.e. emaciated) because the only thing I felt like eating was frozen vegetables. Luckily, I recovered soon enough, but it bothered me that I was told I looked great as a result of basically not being able to eat.

Another frustrating thing is when I hear chubby guys tell me they would never date that girl over there because she's too fat. What?! Not only is it shallow, it reflects this awful double standard.

I would really like to see less emphasis on how women are "supposed" to look. Even phrases such as "real women have curves" is terrible because it puts down women are naturally skinny or have narrow hips, etc. It's unfortunate that a woman's body type goes in and out of style like anything else. For example, in certain time periods being chubby used to signify wealth.

Let's celebrate the beauty in diverse body types instead of letting society tell us what body type is "in fashion".

gtg263r said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gtg263r said...

It is an unfortunate double standard that women are held to much "higher" ideals of physical beauty than men. More unfortunate is that I don't see this changing anytime soon.

Furthermore, I feel that the basis for these standards has deep roots in Western civilization. Going back to Greco-Roman culture, beauty was literally personified as a woman - Aphrodite in Greek mythology, Venus in Roman mythology. As far as I know, there is no male god of beauty in either of these cultures. Men have even supposedly waged war over the beauty of a woman. (See Helen of Troy.)

One could analyze these facts endlessly under various feminist theories, but I think that, for these purposes, it's probably sufficient to hypothesize that the aforementioned double standard is so deeply ingrained in the Western male hegemony that it would take something very radical to shake up these mainstream "ideals" that have been with us since (at least) the time of the Greeks.

Bijorn Turock said...

I may have touched on this a little in a past blog, but it seems that a very large form of influence on what is considered the "ideal beautiful women" comes from major corporations. We live in a world where advertisements are part of our daily routine, from the box of Special K cereal we pick up in the morning to the glass of Coke Zero we wash out at night, we are doing one thing, buying and using what advertisers want us too. Many ad campaigns start by first creating a consumer market. This market is usually created by spending millions of dollars to tell us what we need. Right now, that need is apparently skinny women. The market calls for different things at different times, for example, before the huge tanning craze took over the nation, the ideal image of a women was that of a paler complexion, which is still a standard of beauty in countries like Thailand and India. The ad campaigns during that era were geared around lotions and make up that would help make a women look more fare skinned. Perhaps one solution to creating a more realistic image of the ideal women could be to stop buying into ad campaigns and start letting companies know what it is we want.

N.P. said...

I hope that this post does not offend anyone, but I have always had the opposite problem - that I have always been too skinny. But the interesting thing to me in regarding this post is that this double standard applies to "skinny" girls. I have been called anorexic, told that I need to "bulk up," and have been told that I don't appear athletic because I look fragile. These are trite complaints, obviously, but the fact is that somehow there is a perfect balance of skinny and pretty that no one seems to fit into. Ultimately, I have come to respect my body and to find comfort in it, but this isn't without some difficulty for a very long time.