My most popular post is titled “Too Skinny” – about the too skinny Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie. Weight and body issues are an important subject for many women, particularly young women who look up to these actresses and feel ashamed of their own bodies. The average dress size of the American woman is size 14. Women are beautiful in all sizes. Luckily, there are advocates who can speak to women about the importance of being comfortable with their own body – someone like Oprah. Did you know that only three women were on the Discovery Channel’s list of the Top 25 Greatest Americans: Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and… Oprah Winfrey?! (TV Guide, June 26, 2005)
I spoke to my friend, Brenda, also known as New York City’s #1 Oprah Fan. I was surprised to learn that Brenda’s not Oprah’s #1 Fan anymore.
"When Oprah was fat, all she talked about was being happy with who you are. Once she got thinner, she changed her tune. Now, she’s like a recovering alcoholic, berating people for being fat. If only you exercised more, ate less, did everything right. That, and have a personal trainer and chef at your disposal!"
OK, so maybe Oprah is no longer an advocate for women on this subject. Surely there are others who take the fashion industry to task for only designing clothes for very skinny women. Take Cathy Horne, the New York Times fashion critic. She used to weigh 190 pounds. Oh, but then she started to feel like a phony. How could she write about fashion if she was couldn’t — oh my god — fit into the designer clothes she reviewed?
Unlike art or music or other fields that receive critical appraisal, fashion is visually as well physically expressive. It necessarily involves the body. And I had been using only my brain to evaluate clothes. Because I had little personal experience with the physical side of fashion: the fit, the movement, indeed the pleasure that it can give.
What led me to think about this and to question, at least retrospectively, my fitness for the job was that in the last eight months, after a decade of slowly inching downward, I have lost about 30 pounds and now weigh 137. For the first time since my early 20’s, I can wear a size 8. People in the industry have noticed and complimented me on the change. But the picture wouldn’t be clarified until I went to see Andy Port, a friend and editor at The Times Magazine, to ask if she thought there was an article in any of this.
"Oh, definitely," Andy said. "Especially given your job and the way the fashion industry views weight." She added, on the verge of a shriek, "I mean, just think how many times a designer, after getting a bad review from you, said, ‘That big fat bitch!’ "
Now, Cathy Horne is a happy and fulfilled woman. It was the fat that was holding her back from being the ultimate fashion journalist. As a writer, I can absolutely relate. To better write this post about weight and women, I have gained 30 pounds and undergone a sex change operation.
If there is going to be a strong advocate for women being happy with their own bodies, it must come from the feminist movement. I remember how my Aunt Tilly used to go on marches with Bella Abzug and complain about the male dominated society. What I didn’t know was that the Bella Abzug is as old school as Run-DMC.
The representatives of the “third wave” of American feminism are Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, writers of the well-received Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future. Baumgardner and Richards are popular speakers on college campuses. They separate themselves from older feminists by saying its OK to dress pretty and flirt with boys. On their own website, they give another reason for their popularity.
Jennifer and Amy agreed to visit the class. What a night. One student said afterwards, "It was wonderful how they didn’t look like feminists."
(photo by Ali Price)
I’m sure my Aunt Tilly would be the first to admit that Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan weren’t lookers. And look how thin Jennifer and Amy are! They look great!
Amy Richards also has an advice column titled “Ask Amy” on a feminist website. Finally, we found a person who can help young women overcome their body issues.
Many years ago I used to get so many emails from girls saying: "I’m ugly, I’m fat, I hate my body." and I kind of towed the feminist line for a long time, which was: (saccharine voice) "Oh, that’s not true! It doesn’t matter what you look like! It’s what’s inside! You are a beautiful person!" And then I realized- first of all, when I would write that back to people they would, like, never write me back, ’cause I think they could just see through the phoniness.
In other words, the new answer is “We’re feminists, but you’re fat.”