Well, here we go again. Miss Xa Xa from Amuse Biatch, sent this article about an Anti-Anorexia campaign starting in fashion week in Milan. Click here at your own risk, for the photo of the anorexic model is not pleasant to view. And Big Fella sent this spoof of America's Next Top Model made by the British comedy team, French and Saunders. Incredibly, Dawn French, who plays Tyra, is a big, hefty woman. I am certain this casting would not have occurred before Tyra's very public issues with weight.
Which brings me to this week's weight rant: Weight as a class issue. This has been the case since time began.
In the days of yore when the middle and lower classes literally worked their butts off morning, noon, and night, and when everyone walked everywhere, and hauled stuff with their hands or on their backs (including the kitchen sink) people were hard pressed to keep any weight on their bodies. Only the rich (and those with metabolic diseases) had problems with obesity. In fact, due to an inordinate consumption of fatty proteins the upper classes frequently suffered from gout. They also had bad teeth, thanks to a high intake of sugary sweets.
The working class stiff had to make do with soups and stews made from potatoes, leeks, and bits and pieces of cast off-meats like offal and pig’s jowls. Thus, in previous eras, a deliciously plump and well-fed woman was the envy of all, and men regarded her as an object of desire. In fact, some primitive cultures today still revere obesity as a sign of wealth, health, and fecundity. There’s nothing better than a few layers of fat to stave off times of hardship and famine!
The Industrial Revolution changed this unnatural order of things, and the middle class began earning enough money to provide comfortably for their families and live sedentary lives. Obesity was no longer the sole province of the rich. In addition, photography was invented, and everything went to hell in a handbasket for those who had reached Rubenesque proportions. Much to the ordinary woman’s dismay, photos made plumb cheeks look plumber and round limbs look chunkier. The same lens that made dumplings of ordinary women, caressed every bony angle of a long, attenuated body and high-cheekboned face. In front of a lens, skinny women like socialite Babe Paley looked elegant and the normal-sized woman looked ordinary. Never mind that Babe's lungs must have been black as coal; and that she died of cancer. When it comes to issues of looks and weight (notice I am not speaking of health) it's the external package that counts, not the internal life.
So with the populace eating white refined flour and sugar, and living lives of comfort, and riding everywhere in autos and buses and trains, folks in general began to chunk up. Aside from designer clothes and fabulous jewels, how were the rich to physically distinguish themselves from these bourgeois upstarts? Through diet and exercise, of course. Whilst the middle classes were busy working, sometimes two shifts a day, and mothers began to join the work force in droves, the upper echelons, especially the trophy wives, began to skinny down drastically. During the 70’s bony society gals were known as X-Ray wives. Today we call them normal.
One can imagine the sheer effort of will it took to reach a size 0 in an era when size 10’s were common, or ordering the most expensive foods at the most exclusive restaurants and leaving your plate half full. Such profligate waste is generally unheard of among the lower and middle classes, who invented the doggie bag out of sheer necessity. Below is an image of Helen Gurley Brown, an x-ray woman and promoter of 'thin is in'. As long time editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine, she helped to force feed the skinny body/big boobs woman as the new feminine ideal. The best adjective I can come up with to describe Helen's past and current weight is 'skeletal'. She might be wearing Pucci, but I think the total look is highly unattractive.
Back to the topic. Along with lack of movement and exercise, the giantification of food and portion sizes in grocery stores and restaurants has contributed to our collective weight problems: huge lunch and dinner buffets; platters that groan with fattening foods; supersized portions of french fries and half pound or quarter pound burgers; and giant sized candy bars are common fare for the average Joe. Couple these inexpensive but huge portions with the affordable meals one can purchase in grocery stores, like mac and cheese, or pizza, or spaghetti, and the lower classes are on a constant CARB and sugar high.
But good food is expensive, and often not available in small food markets in inner cities. Whenever I go on a diet, I know my food bill will double. Fresh produce and lean cuts of meat are costly, and creating healthy meals from scratch is time consuming. For a family with two working parents (some of whom work double shifts), or a single parent who works in a low wage position, preparing and eating a nutritious meal is an impossibility.
So I posit, and I think many nutritionists would agree, that obesity and poor diet, poor literacy skills, and poverty are intricately linked. I cannot imagine a poor parent coming home from a double shift telling the family that they're going to the gym to work out for an hour. I cannot imagine that after a long work shift, a parent has the time to take the bus to a grocery store in the suburbs in order to find the quantity and quality of fresh produce required to feed the family a healthy and nutritious meal. I cannot imagine that this family could afford such food even if it was available in a neighborhood market.
So while Paris and Nicky and their ilk nibble on fresh asparagus and work out in their privileged clubs on the latest elliptical machines, their maids are clipping coupons for foods that can be stretched with cheap carbohydrates, like rice, pasta, and potatoes.
Sadly, we also live in a society that promotes 'obesity hate'. Fat is the one vice that is visible; smokers, gamblers, and alcoholics can generally 'hide' their vices from view; but over eaters cannot hide their weight gain. I am amazed that a complete moron (like Sally Ann Voak) is allowed to write that fat people are lazy or unhappy. One assumes that a person who makes such a statement sees only the external package, and that for them the internal life (goodness, kindness, compassion, and pursuing one's dreams and talents) has little meaning.
Now, that's a sad indictment of our society if ever there was one.
Disclaimer: I am no nutritionist or historian, so please don't read my statements as fact. This is just my personal take on a subject that interests me.