Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Body Woman

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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."

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(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.”

11 Comments

  1. If I hear another word about Oprah’s getting up at 5 AM to do an extra pilates class and exercise – I am puking my cheese cake all over the TV.

  2. There is a very interesting book titled “The Obesity Myth : Why America’s Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health,” written by law professor Paul Campos.

    Do you know that by American insurance industry’s BMI standards, Brad Pitt is overweight and George Clooney is obese?

  3. I love the idea of anyone “towing” the feminist line, too. I guess someone’s gotta.

  4. Wow, Neil, that was a speedy sex change.

    I recently read Appetites by Carolyn Knapp, which addresses many of the same issues that Campos addresses–from the pov of a recovering anorexic. Amazing book.

    Great post, Neil. Remember the whole brou-ha-ha about Renee Zellweger gaining twenty pounds to play Bridget Jones? She’s five foot five and got up to 126 pounds. I was horrified–I’m five foot six and weight 128 pounds–which has always seemed pretty healthily average to me. Clearly, not by Hollywood standards.

  5. To Edgy — you see what I do for my readers? A sex change, just so I more accurately write about women. And earlier this week, I wrote about that Nigerian Bishop. Think about that. I didn’t realize writing was so difficult. No wonder they get paid so well.

  6. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be Asian and weigh more than 100 lbs??? In my case…waaaaay more than 100 lbs?

    My relatives from Manila send me clothes that are labeled XXXL and they barely fit me.

    When I cry about my weight my non-Asian friends would dismiss it like I have no right to be upset.

    I’m just kinda stuck in the middle, I guess. On one side people think I’m a fat pig, and on the other side people think I’m overly obsessed about my weight.

  7. Michael Blowhard said: “I love the idea of anyone “towing” the feminist line, too.”

    What does it mean, in this context?

  8. Incredible ‘keeping us on the edge of our seats’ writing Neil! You should have your own TV show!!

  9. How kind of you, Josia. I’ve always wanted to be on the Home
    Shopping Network.

  10. I just recently issued a big snort of disgust at the feminist movement and how very completely little relevance it has to do with anything that women need…so now i am gonna go check these links to see if some woman out there is actually doing something worthwhile under the guise of this movement, or i’m a gonna get me a sex change operation and change my name to mother jones.

  11. But skinny people (like me) also have weight issues:S I dont like my body at all cuz im too skinny. And some people think I want to be so they think it dosent matter if they say to me: oh, youre so skinny, you have lost weight. But I hate when they say that, really my heart just gets heavy. And I just smile a bit and try to ignore that comment. When I see a person, I dont think, O she/he is fat/skinny, I ALWAYS find the good thing in people. It’s not something I do on purpose, its just like that. And I wish everybody would be like this =) What I think instead is, Im gonna live my life and not give a f*ck about others opinion about me, cuz I know whats best for me and if im healthy or not even though im a skinny bitch =) hoho 😉

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