Via Jezebel through Secondhandsally, I see that cookbook author and cooking-show host Nigella Lawson is being subjected to some of the same scrutiny that befell Jennifer Love Hewitt. And, like Hewitt, she’s saying something about it:
Some people love food writer and TV host Nigella Lawson. She’s bright, successful, forty-something, and loves food, unapologetically. But some people — who have been commenting on the BBC website — think the British star is a “porker” who sends the wrong message, reports The Times of London. “What sort of an example is she setting with her weight and her appetite for high-calorie sweets and cream?” one reader asks. Nigella tells Times writer Shane Watson: “Maybe I have put on weight, or maybe it’s a bad camera angle [or a poorly fitted dress, perhaps? -- z.]. But in real life, this is normal size. Everyone is so critical. All must be sacrificed to the great god of skinny. You must say no to everything.” Ms. Watson claims that the “god of skinny” has dethroned the “god of beauty.” She writes, “Beauty without a slim body is now almost pointless.”
Oh, I love that comment about what kind of example she’s setting “with her weight and her appetite for high-calorie sweets and cream.” See, it’s not the high-calorie sweets and cream that are the problem, it’s the fact that she has an appetite for them. And women aren’t supposed to have appetites. Even if they do make their living writing cookbooks and hosting cooking shows.
Actually, I should amend that: it’s acceptable for women to have appetites so long as they stay effortlessly slim. And so long as Lawson stayed slim (though she’s never really been skinny), there was a lot of talk about how refreshing it was to see a hot woman who loves food. But once she put on a couple of pounds, those same appetites suddenly became unacceptable and a bad example.
I do find the observation that thinness=beauty to be interesting, and the Times interview elaborates on it:
What is remarkable about the “great god of skinny”, as Nigella puts it, is that he has toppled the god of beauty with hardly a murmur of dissent. If celebrity culture is any indication, beauty without a slim body is now almost pointless – see how Beyoncé has started to be targeted by the curve police. Her bootylicious body, which most men would die for, was described at the recent American Music Awards as “erupting” out of her dress.
“I think it is a fear of flesh,” says Nigella, “maybe of vulnerability and softness.” Is that ultimately a fear of sex? “I don’t know. But I do think that women who spend all their lives on a diet probably have a miserable sex life: if your body is the enemy, how can you relax and take pleasure? Everything is about control, rather than relaxing, about holding everything in.”
Lawson has a slightly different perspective on the vulnerability of flesh than most people; her mother, sister and husband all died of cancer, so she associates extreme thinness with illness and death. But even more revealing is this anecdote about her mother:
“I associate thinness with dying. My mother had real eating issues. When she had cancer, she said, ‘This is the first time I have eaten without worrying,’ and that is chilling. Something clicked, and I vowed never to say, ‘I am not allowed that.’ ”
That’s probably one of the saddest things I’ve read in a long time.
However, I’m rather disappointed about two aspects of the Times piece. First and foremost, both Lawson and the author (and, for that matter, Jezebel) place the blame for all of this policing behavior on the shoulders of women:
There is a lot of confusion about this weight fascism. We blame fashion. We blame models. We blame ageism and advertising and celebrity. But who stands to gain from ostracising women because they are too curvaceous or too thin? Other women, that’s who: women who mistrust their own sex and who lack confidence in themselves.
Skinny bitch or fat cow: which side of the line are you? The fact is, you can’t avoid taking sides. JK Rowling is the latest to show her colours. Provoked by articles commenting on her supposed “new diet”, she snapped back with: “In the interests of accuracy, I must point out that, far from losing weight, I’ve gained a good bit.” She also made references to Paris Hilton-type celebrities, describing them as “empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones”.
As we discussed in the thread about Hewitt, it’s not just women who shame women about their weight, and it’s not just the fashion industry. The policing of women’s bodies goes on all the time, and discussions about the fuckability of women — positive or negative — are part and parcel. Whether you’re saying, “Ew, cellulite” or “I’d hit it,” you’re engaging in public scrutiny of women’s bodies, and that’s something that both men and women do. And why? Because it’s social control. Just because the crabs in the bucket don’t see anyone else but other crabs doesn’t mean that there’s nobody holding the bucket, waiting for the crabs to exhaust themselves. Lawson herself may have never experienced critical comments about her weight from men, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t feel entitled to comment about her body.
I mean, who do these people think that women are competing for and over? Each other?
But another aspect I didn’t like — and one that played right into the very thing that Lawson and the author were decrying — was the separation of women into camps:
In her TV series, Nigella plays on her low opinion of self-discipline (though she clearly has enough of it to run a family and a mega-career), but in so doing, she is putting herself firmly in what we have come to regard as the fat camp. That is, among women who embrace pleasure and don’t beat themselves up about it – as opposed to the skinny camp, which sees containing their desires and bodies as a continuing challenge. It’s the latter camp that Nigella thinks is a threat to normal feminine existence. “In my experience, the weight thing is an almost totally female problem. I never feel bad about my weight around men, only women. Women act like it is somehow a moral failing to have hips.” …
The underlying issue is becoming clear. In the fat camp are those who represent the forces of goodness and womanliness, or indulgence and ill discipline, depending on where you stand on the scales; in the skinny camp are the savvy, fit, modern girls, or the life-deniers – if you’re not so thin yourself. The size you are is a statement of your entire life philosophy, and the gulf between the two camps is filled with fear and misunderstanding. It is war, ladies, and it is our war. We are making enemies of each other on the basis of body shape.
The idea that women who are fat are happily embracing pleasure and accepting themselves while skinny women are sour self-deniers is not only simply false as a blanket proposition, but indulges in the same kind of moral scolding that Lawson says she doesn’t like. “Fine, you may find my hips a moral failing, but *I* think you’re a bitter, pleasureless hag.” Yeah, way to avoid that crabs-in-a-bucket problem.