Another reminder of those impossible standards

nigella120307.jpg

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.

Mmm, crabs.


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73 Responses to Another reminder of those impossible standards

  1. I have a hard time seeing how she’s anything besides skinny. That ISN’T skinny? I must be a whale. *eyeroll*

  2. Cola Johnson says:

    I like exercise, lots, but I like food and doing things that require sitting still a lot more, like playing video games.

    The fullness of my life matters so much more to me than the way I look. I tend to think those who succeed in making their lives so livable are actually the ones who radiate beauty, and not just the sappy “inner” kind, either.

  3. jenofiniquity says:

    It’s weird to see a woman with a body like — nipped-in waist, thin face and neck — that described as fat.

  4. ajesquire says:

    I agree that the fat camp/skinny camp dichotomy is wrong on a bunch of levels.

    Surely there are a bunch of men and women in the so-called “fat camp” that aren’t indulging in whatever it is that’s being condemned by the label “fat camp”. And there are probably a bunch of men and women in the so-called “skinny camp” who may be denying themselves indulgence in food, but do indulge in other things like drugs, tobacco, diet-pills, etc.

    And I’d just add that I always found, and still find, Nigella to be absolutely beautiful.

  5. Roxie says:

    I have a hard time….with that dress…but she’s English, right? So I’ll probably be wearing the same thing in a couple of months[/cheek]

    i really hate how the article ended up.

    No! Women can’t be at peace! You must be warring hateful bitches snearing at each other across the scrimmage line. It’s all a set up to have us all think ourselves as faulty.

    I can’t believe they went the “other women stand gain” route? After a short ego boost, maybe, what?? They forgot the first rule (!), follow the money. There’s more than one industry built around this impossible to balance act.

    I don’t think it’s about staying “effortlessly” thin, so long as you stay thin. If you showcase your effort, there’s praise and book deals in it. If it’s effortless, well, you’ve drawn the lottery…but if someone has an eating disorder, everyone’s surprised! But isn’t it funny how ppl forget that some people, despite their diet, stay thin…yet at the same time think it never works the other way around? [/ot rant]

  6. Matt Ortega says:

    I’ve never seen her before but she looks incredibly beautiful in that picture.

  7. Anne Onne says:

    What I hate most is the last paragraph. The idea that thinking there’s more to life, and not wanting to crash diet means you is really telling. Now when I think of discipline, I think of army training, martial arts, helll, any physical training, or learning an instrument, or making sure all your deadlines are met. You know, stuff that is beneficial for you to get done, that you may love, but sometimes need to push yourself to do when you’re feeling lazy.

    What the hell has dieting yourself to misery got to do with that? You don’t gain anything with a really strict diet. You deny yourself little pleasures in life, and you gain nothing, apart from societal approval. It seems the diet culture is so disproving of everyone that doesn’t fit the mould, they have a moral complex about it. They’re ‘disciplined’.

    But the truth is, what if you don’t see denying yourself everything to be a ‘discipline’? what if you just don’t think it’s important enough to do? It’s not that i lack discipline, it’s that I don’t think I have to watch every morsel of food that passes through my mouth, so I’ don’t. Kind of like how I don’t do other things I consider unnecessary or harmful. I hate the implication that if someone isn’t trying to conform to a narrow beauty ideal, it’s because they can’t. Because they’re not strong enough. No. I don’t climb mount Everest because I’m not strong enough. I don’t fad diet because I don’t want to. Big difference.

    But isn’t it funny how ppl forget that some people, despite their diet, stay thin…yet at the same time think it never works the other way around?

    Yes! So true. I knew someone who was naturally really thin, but ate A LOT. She just didn’t understand that the people she htought just weren’t trying, or were sociffng themselves probably weren’t. When I tried to point out that they probably ate less than her, she wouldn’t get it.

    But I agree about the crabs in the bucket analogy. Women are taught to be very competitive with other women to the point where I an imagine Ms. Lawson does feel more pressure from women. Obviously, we know men are judging her as much, because they also have an opinion, on whether they would sleep with her or not. Maybe women are seen as bitchier because there’s this underlying assumption that men have the right to constantly judge women, and that their flirting or saying they wolud sleep with her must be a compliment in all instances, so shouldn’t be minded. Men can’t help it, after all.

    I can’t believe they’ve started giving her crap after the whole ‘it’s really refreshing to see women who love food and are content with themselves’ thing. Well, you know, if a woman is that, she just might also not care about slimming down constantly for the cameras.

  8. Cortney says:

    I never feel bad about my weight around men, only women. Women act like it is somehow a moral failing to have hips

    Yikes. This is so classic. It isn’t men who oppress, its women! Isn’t it interesting how the patriarchy manages to disguise itself in order to self protect.

  9. Blunderbuss says:

    Good god, I thought that I could never love Nigella more, but now I do. A major part of her sexiness is her self-confidence, and it’s brilliant that more women are telling tabloids ‘STFU, I am beautiful’.

    (And to everyone who has never seen her before, by god try to see an episode of her cooking show or read her books. She is, truely, a Domestic Goddess)

  10. Esme says:

    Looking at her, and thinking about what her actual body probably looks like when not constrained by fabric, she probably is a little bit “overweight” by those idiotic standard. In other words, yeah, she’s kinda fat.

    She also has a brain, good recipes, a smoking hot body, and a smile that could make me fall out of me chair.The question is: why is a bunch of people calling some woman “fat” news? And why do we give any credence to some asshole who’s bothering to write in and say “OH NOES THE FAT WOMAN ON THE TEEVEE WILL MAKE US ALL FAT”

  11. no u says:

    I never feel bad about my weight around men, only women. Women act like it is somehow a moral failing to have hips

    BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    Allow me to compose myself for a moment. See, it’s not the other women in my uni degree who make disparaging comments about me wearing leggings for performances, or who ask me if I need a break after a few minutes of Suzuki training under the assumption that my size indicates my health or fitness levels. It’s certainly not women who lean out of car windows to hurl abuse at me. And even worse, I wear an Australian size 12. I might be a few sizes larger than many of the other women in my degree, given that a large proportion of them are classically trained dancers, but none of them have ever felt fit to comment on my body. The people offering “helpful” advice in movement classes are, inevitably, a small number of male participants so unfit and uncomfortable with their bodies that they refuse to turn up on time for fear of actually having to participate in a vigorous physical warm-up, mumble rudely whenever they hear a female classmate speak up in class discussion, and feel the need to call any conventionally attractive female a “bimbo barbie” – regardless of whether the girl can academically wipe the floor with them or not.

    I’ve made a point of never commenting about the appearance of other women since I left a pretty toxic highschool, and I don’t feel bad about being contrary with friends or acquaintances if I hear them say something damaging, unwarranted and plain fucking stupid.

  12. Lars says:

    I believe the entire debate has failed in one important point: The focus should not be on being “thin” or being “fat”, it should be on being healthy.
    Something that Cortney (one of the above posters) said struck a chord in me, while I disagree with her assesment that its patriachy that does this to self protect, I do agree with the underlying note that its not womens faulth.

    Simply put, the position that promotes the unreasonable standards are driven by an audience who wishes to dream in cinemas and on advertisement posters, in daily TV, everywhere you have pictures of beautifull women who has often been digitally “improved” this is to make men think them “hot” as in “no way I can get someone *that* pretty -but one can dream”, and young girls go “I am ugly in comparison”, add in the fact that both sexes then try to consider the images an ideal, and you have a pressure on women, not just from other women, but from society in general.

    Its a sad circle, and one that needs the support of not only women, but also men to be broken, men needs to stop considering women like the objects who has to have the impossible standards, and some women needs to stop actually falling for those same beliefs.

  13. Caithyra says:

    Er, she isn’t fat, and I’m a skinny woman who say that she isn’t fat. But I’m surprised that she blames women for putting pressures on other women. In my experience, and I have extremely low self-esteem, a tease or joke from another woman about gaining or losing weight don’t have quite the impact of being called “Fat cow” “Skeleton” “Fat pig” “Spider-legs” “Whale” and “Razor-elbows” by the men.

    Especially when you go online and see a whole page of comments like that (and want to point out the irony that whenever a man says that he wants the woman to be more curvy and not a skinny skeleton, and then turn around and say that images like that one above, depicts a fat cow in over indulgence, it’s a contradiction).

    Also, I hate how she blames skinny women for other women’s woes. I have consistently tried to go up in weight my whole life without succeeding (I tried muscle as well as massive amounts of chocolate and crisps), being stuck at first at 45 kg at 170 cm, and later I jumped, to my happiness to 50 kg, but now I’ve stuck there for years. Needless to say, I didn’t develop curves in puberty.

    I was consistently ostracised, bullied and teased, and it got worse after anorexia and bulimia became more known (I got accused of anorexia more times than I can count, didn’t help that my real name starts with an A, which meant that of course I want you nickname me after an eating disorder after a classmate nicknamed me after an ugly comic character with an x in their name), and my friend whom had curves was treated the same. Only the girls within a narrow middle of us two were considered attractive, as in that they had breasts and curves yet still could be considered skinny. In fact, the boys refused to date me and my friend, yet consistently ran after those other girls.

    Personally I blame the media for propagating all this (what does a hunk, a beauty queen and a panther have in common? They all appeared in a commercial for coffee). But I also blame all those whom feel that they can pass judgement upon others. That skinny person you just started a rumour about having anorexia might just be unable to go up in weight. Similiarly the one that get called “Fat cow” is probably not fat at all, but still within the boundaries of normal weight and many have that build naturally.

    Neither are evil criminals and responsible for what [they/you] make them a victim of.

    (Sorry for the rambling and any spelling/grammar mistakes, English is my second language.)

  14. Katherine says:

    Further irony of all of this is that, in the UK at least, Nigella Lawson is not-so-secretly considered sexy as hell by most men beyond 19 years old.

    But what this whole kerfuffle brings out in me is, again, the realisation that the media version of thin and and fat bears absolutely no sodding relationship to the Real World (TM) version of thin and fat.

    Nigella isn’t fat! She just isn’t!

  15. Linnaeus says:

    I’m a big fan of Nigella Lawson’s show, and not that it really matters here or there, but I think she’s absolutely gorgeous.

    It’s not just how she looks; it’s her general attitude, her on-screen persona, etc. I guess it shouldn’t baffle me that she’s facing this kind of thing, but it still does.

  16. alsojill says:

    While I agree that men are generally worse about the truly nasty comments, etc., I do also think it is really important to acknowledge that women are *extremely* hard on other women about their weight.

    And it seems disingenuous to imply that men represent the patriarchy, and women don’t. If the patriarchy is as all -encompassing as we know it to be, then women who fat-shame (and women *do* fat shame, often in greater degrees than men, I think) are tools of the patriarchy just as much as their male counterparts.

  17. Linnaeus says:

    This is slightly off-topic, but this post reminds me of something I saw about a year ago that really ticked me off.

    I was having lunch at a bar/restaurant place that I went to regularly. The bar area has a television above one end, and at midday, the Food Channel is usually playing because one of the owners is a chef and he watches it while he’s not working. Anyway, when I walked in, Everyday Italian with Giada DeLaurentiis was on, and the owner, the bartender, and a third guy pretty much spent the whole show gushing over her to the point where I almost told them to shut up. Yes, Giada DeLaurentiis is attractive and no, you guys aren’t even in the same league as her just because you work in a restaurant.

    (Classic moment: The bartender said at one point, “Yeah, she’s hot and she makes, like, some really good food!” Gee, you noticed?)

    Then Barefoot Contessa came on while I was still there, and the attitude of the three guys changed considerably. They said very negative things about the foods she made and brought up an anecdote about how she was this total bitch and hard to work with. At that point it hit me: of course they’re going to believe the worst they can about Ina Garten (the hostess of Barefoot Contessa), because she is well into middle age and a large woman. Sure enough, about thirty seconds later they all made some crack about Ina Garten being fat and ugly.

    As an aside, I go to that place much less now, since most of the good staff have long since quit or been purged of their jobs by the asshole chef/owner.

  18. zuzu says:

    And it seems disingenuous to imply that men represent the patriarchy, and women don’t. If the patriarchy is as all -encompassing as we know it to be, then women who fat-shame (and women *do* fat shame, often in greater degrees than men, I think) are tools of the patriarchy just as much as their male counterparts.

    Oh, sure. But as soon as we get into the idea of “women are just doing this to each other,” then men disappear from the equation. And as I pointed out, men feel perfectly entitled to comment in minute detail on any random woman’s body. I didn’t spell it out, but we are all conditioned to police women’s bodies by the Patriarchy. What’s disingenuous is pretending that men don’t do it or that they don’t benefit.

  19. First of all I am really really excited that you read (and linked to) my post.

    Secondly, I completely with you here, zuzu. It’s *exact same* bullshit to say skinny women are pinched self-deniers as saying fat women are lazy and selfish. You said it better, but that’s what I was trying to say with the “passing the mirror” bit. We cannot combat this stuff using other people as stepping stones to climb out of this body-image hole.

  20. Daomadan says:

    I don’t have much else to say on this post but: Wow, she’s gorgeous. Wow. Yeah.

    Okay…back to your regularly scheduled commenting. :)

  21. alsojill says:

    What’s disingenuous is pretending that men don’t do it or that they don’t benefit.

    Very true. And, as I said, I think men tend to be a lot nastier and confrontational about their “commentary.”

    (And I would like to add that my comment is partly fueled by feeling like a lot of commenters lately (here at Feministe and elsewhere) have been enabling women’s cruelty to women by blaming the patriarchy for that cruelty–which, even if it is true, disavows the importance of personal responsibility and resistence to patriarchal pressures.)

    I’m not saying that’s what you were doing–just explaining my own reaction.

  22. beth says:

    I think Nigella Lawson is probably the most gorgeous woman on television. Why do people think voluptuous means fat? But that’s irrelevant, she writes cookbooks and hosts a cooking show. Her recipes are delicious, isn’t that what’s important? She knows her job and does it well. Furthermore, who are you going to trust instructing you on food? Someone who looks like they enjoy it, or someone who hasn’t eaten a carbohydrate in a decade?

  23. D.N. Nation says:

    1) She looks fine.
    2) Why would anyone want a rail-thin chef, anyway? And to that end, that was always the thing that weirded me out about Giada De Laurentiis…until I found out that she eats a ton but just metabolizes well.

  24. D.N. Nation says:

    What’s disingenuous is pretending that men don’t do it or that they don’t benefit.

    Well, “superficially benefit” is what I think we should realize here, because the minute men divorce a woman from her thoughts, beliefs, spirit, ideals, and view her as a set of physical attributes across the plane of her outer shell is the minute men reduce themselves into the animalistic sex-race too. Women starving themselves and fighting amongst themselves over body type, and men creating the problem in the first place through objectification and hyper-classification (not to mention just general jackassery) benefits men the way eating a 100-foot-by-100-foot calzone would benefit men. Delicious to death.

  25. Darcy says:

    I didn’t see the article as encouraging the “fat=not enough self-control”/”skinny=sour self-deniers” outlook at all, but rather observing and lamenting the phenomenon. It would probably be more helpful to talk about how small the difference is in reality rather than decrying the psychological space we put between us, but apart from the ignoring of men in the equation–perhaps a topic for another article–I thought the article did a fair job.

  26. Betsy says:

    The irony is that by expressing such an idea about skinny women, they’re actually buying into the diet myth. You know, the one that says that IF ONLY you fatties would have some damn SELF DISCIPLINE, then you wouldn’t be so fatty fat fat. When of course, we know that diets almost never work. So when they say that thin women are “pinched” or “denying themselves,” they’re accepting the idea that they’re thin because they’re dieting, not because of other factors.

  27. zuzu says:

    Well, “superficially benefit” is what I think we should realize here

    And women benefit substantively from this?

  28. D.N. Nation says:

    Uh, no. I meant that any “benefit” a man would receive through demeaning women and all that results is a bogus benefit.

  29. petra says:

    I’m preaching to the choir, but I have to vent.

    I read endless comments under photos like Jennifer Love Hewitt’s, the least hateful of which are: Go to the gym; there is no excuse.

    Go to the gym, my ass (–the size of should always be irrelevant to other people). Go to the gym? Go to college. Go tutor kids. Go work to make your family secure. Go call your grandmother. Go do the laundry, for God’s sake.

    I fly into a rage when it is revealed, again, that women’s highest and foremost priority is to make their bodies look a certain way. The degree of hate leveled right now at women who do not conform astonishes and saddens me.

    The ignorance, too, about what human bodies actually look like astonishes me. I work out with friend whose body is sleek and slim, very close to the current ideal. I am curvier, more dimpled, broad-shouldered and ample-thighed. She wears a size 0; I wear an 8. We are exactly the same height. We are also exactly the same weight.

  30. hp says:

    She wears a size 0; I wear an 8. We are exactly the same height. We are also exactly the same weight.

    Women in my family run to one of two extremes: either we get a slender frame that makes us look almost starving most of the time, or we get a very large frame.

    I have the slender frame, my youngest sister the large frame. I wear a 2 or 4 depending on the clothing. My sister wears an 14, 16 depending on the clothing. We are the same height.

    I weigh 130, my sister weights 145. If she gets down to 130, she still isn’t going to be wearing a 2 or 4.

    (Oh, and my sister was a track star during high school and still keeps in shape. I, on the other hand, currently am so out-of-shape that I am ashamed of myself.)

  31. ajesquire says:

    As a man, I know I probably don’t have any experience, expertise or credibility on intra-women issues, but I would just point out that Nigella was talking about her own personal experience, and the way she feels around women compared to being around men.

    I don’t read that as indicting all women or excusing all men. It’s just her experience.

    Perhaps it raises the question of whether other women, when confronted with a truly beautiful woman, are more quick to find flaws. I don’t know.

  32. Eileen says:

    Ugh. Always with this shit.

    If I were to cut a picture out and make it the dream of what I’d like my body to look like, I might very well pick the picture posted above. Not everybody has to like a curvy body, or a thin body, or any particular kind of body. I have curves and I like them. My husband is attracted to them. My husband has a body type that I find very attractive. And it’s entirely our business and nobody else’s.

    There are all kinds of people in the world and there’s a place for everyone. I’ve said this before on someone’s discussion thread (can’t recall where), but it is always the reflection that I’m left with: I understand being attracted or not attracted to all kinds of people, but I’ll never understand the refusal of some people to leave the ones they don’t find attractive alone.

  33. scrappy says:

    I detect a similarity in the discourse around weight and the discourse around abortion.

    People who want to control women’s reproductive choices couch it in the language of concern: “We have to protect the wimminz from the [utterly undocumented] mental health problems that result from abortion, and the physiological risks [much lower than giving birth] associated with the procedure, and the [mythical] increased risk of breast cancer!”

    Likewise, people who want women’s bodies to conform to their sexual or aesthetic gratification couch THEIR demands in the language of concern: “It’s so UNHEALTHY to be fat! [Actually, this is questionable.] We’re just so worried about her blood pressure and whatnot!”

    What a big fucking lie. Concern trolls, the lot of them.

  34. SarahMC says:

    What really pisses me off is the popular notion that women have a duty to be as thin and pretty as possible if they want to exist in the public sphere. Like, if we’re not decorative enough for the menz, we should be confined to our homes.

  35. FashionablyEvil says:

    Go to the gym, my ass (–the size of should always be irrelevant to other people). Go to the gym? Go to college. Go tutor kids. Go work to make your family secure. Go call your grandmother. Go do the laundry, for God’s sake.

    Hear, hear!

  36. Pansy P says:

    “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.’ ”

    I’ve always felt the same way about real thinness – my mother was evidently unhappy with her weight her entire life, and finally got skinny when she was in the final stages of terminal cancer when she was 28. So for my entire life, I’ve associated noticeable weight loss with illness. I rarely, if ever, tell people they “look good” if they’ve lost a lot of weight, and often don’t comment on it at all. It freaks me out when someone has dropped a lot of weight.

    Oddly, however, that attitude has not stopped me from worrying over my size, though my focus has always been on being fit, rather than actually losing weight. Body consciousness really gets in your head. It’s hard to shake, even if you have bad associations with weight loss.

  37. D.N. Nation says:

    Concern trolls, the lot of them.

    Don’t forget that both arguments center completely on putting your nose where it just shouldn’t be.

    Why civil libertarians choose to ally themselves with this think-of-the-children/think-of-yourself/I’m-just-helping breed of conservative is beyond me.

    Actually, it’$ probably $uper $imple, the more I think about it.

  38. Anna B says:

    When I was anorexic in high school, several people asked my mom if I had cancer. As mortified as I was when I found out, the fear of being fat – or maybe losing “control” – was too overwhelming for me to stop. When I look back on it, I just want to comfort my teenage self, and dismantle everything society does to support womens’ poor body image.

  39. ellenbrenna says:

    From my experience men feel free to privately fat shame while direct fat-shaming in public easily gets them labelled jackasses.

    Women can fat-shame in public more readily because it is for your own good. Obviously because it is for your own good they could not possibly be considered jackasses, could they? They are just trying to help. *eye roll*

  40. evil fizz says:

    e 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.

    Do people say this about Emeril or Mario Batali or any of the other male chefs on TV who do not merit the adjective slim? I’m waiting.

  41. D.N. Nation says:

    Paul Prudhomme is notable for his size…but he’s huge. And he’s considered lovable for his heft.

    So yeah. It’s BS.

  42. roses says:

    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,

    Because obviously fat women don’t diet or watch what they eat, because if they did they’d be thin. Except… not. Almost all the women I know, fat and thin alike, are self-deniers when it comes to food. I only know one woman who really, truly, eats what she wants. She’s naturally very thin. So yeah, it’s bullshit, and another way to pit women against each other.

    As is this idea that it’s only women who criticize other women for their weight. I’ve personally only been criticised by other women for my weight to my face but I don’t delude myself about what men say to each other about me behind my back. And I know lots of women who have had men make nasty comments about their weight to their faces.

  43. Tara says:

    Men substantively benefit by the deflection of an enormous amount of female energy towards dieting and body control, which reduces competition for actual goods like academic, intellectual, and professional advancement. (This is part of Naomi Wolf’s argument in the Beauty Myth).

    Lately I’ve read some truly awful anecdotes about mothers being *awful* to their daughters about their bodies, pressuring weightloss but in really hateful and, well, ridiculous ways. In kind, if not (necessarily always) in scale, I think this could be compared to the practice of footbinding or FGM, which is/was (often) *apparently* imposed on girls by the female community, but can probably/hopefully be attributed to a mother’s wish for her daughter to achieve success and happiness in the only ways that the patriarchal culture appears to permit.

  44. Cat of many faces says:

    The weirdest thing about the competition for mens attention as I see it is that as a guy, growing up the societal lesson for men was that NO women would ever want us. The only way to get a women was to somehow trick her into being with you, or have enough money that you were in a relationship as basically buying her time.

    Maybe this whole having to be skinny thing is the other side of the coin. Both seem to be a denial of the opposite sex as having any ability to actually love someone. instead all that is left is a superfical relationship to aim for.

    Thus the message that you had better be thin, or rich! No one will like you for you after all.

    And that would explain these tirades against the women who are in perfectly good health; They are breaking the rules! They are successful AND healthy. And often in love, which is almost always looked at with an undercurrent of it’s all for the money, or sex.

    There is some treatment of guys this way as well, (the looser hanger on boyfriend basically, he’s just there to mooch off her money) but no where near as much as for women.

    Pretty sad all around.

  45. ajesquire says:

    I also think it’s possible that some women like Nigella feel worse about their bodies around other women than around men because women are better at subtle jabs.

    A guy may be thinking “wow, your ass looks big today”, but all but the most douchebaggy of us would actually say that directly to a woman.

    On the other hand, it seems in my experience (including how my mother-in-law dogs my wife), that some women have perfected the “oh, I need to lose those last 3 lbs to fit in the bikini for summer” routine to their girlfriend whom they know is 20 lbs away from “bikini-shape”, or the thin woman who complaints to her fuller-figured friend about how “that cookie would go right to my hips.”

    What kind of passive-agressive shit do you think Nigella gets from other women about “that rich food that you cook”.

  46. Hawise says:

    My problem with this is that so much of it stems from a commodification of relationships so that man with money=good catch, woman with mareketable looks= good deal. I think we have all been sold a bill of goods and in many respects have accepted the basic premise that we are the product being sold.
    I can see where Nigella Lawson, who is in a busness based on looks and on food, can get trapped in the middle. The comments that she gets from the women are probably all looks related but the men are probably commenting on how she is poaching in their preserves as a successful chef. I can see how she would therefore associate the women’s behaviour with the fat vs. thin issue and less the talent vs. luck issue.

  47. Dana says:

    Nigella is awesome. And she looks amazing with that amount of fat. The fact she doesn’t have a flat tummy doesn’t make her unhealthy, that’s just sad. What a ridiculous picture all round.

    Interesting the discussion about men vs women fat-shaming. I’ve never ever ever had problems with men making comments, or even looking like they may make comments. I’ve never had problems getting laid or being seen as sexy. My fat levels have varied significantly over the years but basically I’m 5’6″, small breasts, no hips but a round arse, with a waist but never a flat tummy (even when I was 20lbs lighter with a lot more muscle) and big legs.

    Now, I’ve never been bullied or harassed by women either, but WTF is with women’s magazines? “Haha, look how FAT Britney is! She’s a bad mother!” A lot of women I like and respect like to read this back-stabbing rubbish.

    I’m definitely not saying “it’s all women!” FUCK no. But I can see how an individual’s experience may point towards more direct discrimination from their own sex :P

  48. Mnemosyne says:

    Speaking of setting women against each other, has anyone seen the new Quizno’s commercial? It’s the “Flatbread Sammies” one.

    It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, but still … ew. Bring back the spongemonkeys.

  49. getitgirl says:

    I love that comment, about the example she’s setting. By love it I mean laughed my ass off thinking about how silly it is. She doesn’t owe it to anyone to set any type of example. She’s a fucking chef, for Christ’s sake. She’s doing her job, and she does it really well. Who gives a rat’s ass what she looks like? For the record, I think she’s gorgeous, but it doesn’t matter anyway. Even if she weighed four hundred pounds, she doesn’t have to justify herself to anyone. If she was a doctor who was morbidly obese, it would be different, but her business is food. How come nobody gets all up in
    Emeril Lagasse’s face about his weight?

  50. Laurie says:

    OK, so again with the photo analysis… *sigh*

    The dress is not fitting her well at the moment. It looks to me like one of those stretchy things, though, and like it got a little rucked up because she was sitting or something and just needs to be scooted down a little. The lighting is AWFUL!!! She looks like she is being lit straight from the front with a ridiculously large spot light or something — there is no depth at all to her in that picture, and like I ranted about on the JLH post, the camera doesn’t do depth anyway. It just flattens everything out, so it looks wide and not 3-dimensional. When you combine that with flat lighting from the front (no shadows or chiariscuro) you have a really, really unflattering to *anyone* combination. Feh! She looks awesome! And LOOKS are not her business anyway! :P While actors and singers put themselves out in front of people and can reasonably expect people to look at them and have an opinion, she’s a chef. I honestly care more about “can she cook things I’d actually eat” than what she looks like.

    Nobody gets all up in Emeril Lagasse’s face about his weight because he’d just “BAM!” them into oblivion. Oh, wait, that’s not it. I know it’s something silly….

  51. Ashley says:

    I saw that picture and I didn’t think “fat” or “skinny.” I thought that dress looked uncomfortable and that she was very clearly wearing the wrong undergarments for it, not that it matters at all. She’s gorgeous, and if she loves food, yay!

    Personally, I would never trust a skinny (supermodel thin) chef or baker. I want to get food from someone who indulges in their own cooking.

  52. kali says:

    Thing is, with Nigella, I bet she’s surrounded by men who just find her jaw-droppingly gorgeous fantasy material, and by women who feel a bit threatened by her–not just her looks, she called one of her shows How to be a Domestic Goddess, ffs. She kind of represents an ideal that’s hard to live up to, at least on TV. So I do buy that she might be getting catty comments from women she meets; I think she’s just one of those people who can stir up insecurities. If she wasn’t so beautiful i think she’d be finding men judging her weight too.

  53. Roxie says:

    Mnemosyne,

    I hate that commercial. I hate the idea that the only the “normal/average/plain” woman can be happy is if this beautiful, model of woman HATES HER b/c model woman can’t be allowed a sandwich like that.

    It’s really fuckin’ sad. I wish the other woman would’ve pulled out a sandwich for her and then they could both eat happily.

    I remember a time where I felt ashamed to eat in public. As if I should not be doing this thing in front of others would could see me doing it. I’d better not smack, I’d better not gulp. I must take small bites and it can’t be anything remotely like junk food or candy, b/c these people can see me. The idea of what I *knew* they were thinking was suffocating.

  54. rosehiptea says:

    Roxie and Mnemosyne,

    I hate that commercial too. It’s like… the other woman must be automatically jealous of the “more beautiful” woman and thrilled that she has a sandwich, instead of having, you know, a life. I agree that I wish they both ended up eating a sandwich, the whole thing is ridiculous.

  55. Nic says:

    Protect your eyes, I’m about to go on a rant.

    Bullshit like this makes me crazy! Every time something like this comes up, I take it very personally. Maybe that’s selfish of me, I don’t know, but that’s the way it is.
    That woman is NOT fat. And even if she were, it’s none of anyone’s damn business! Comments like these are part of the reason that young women have eating disorders. I know, because I’m one of them. I’m 5’3″, weigh 102 lbs, and wear a size 4. I would still be considered “fat” in Hollywood. I’ve been anorexic and bulimic for 8 years. I’m 24.
    I also am constantly cold, have low blood pressure, liver function that’s not so good, and I’ve lost my period. That’s not to mention the little voice inside me that says, “You’re fat, don’t eat that, you can’t eat that or you’ll get fatter”. That’s the side of an eating disorder that the camera doesn’t see. (and I’m not implying that all thin women have eating disorders, not at all)
    If I could trade all of this for a happier, healthier, heavier body, I would. And I’m working on doing so.

    This rant is now concluded, you may remove your protective goggles.

  56. Justin K. says:

    I think Nigella’s on to something when she connects the obsession with thinness to a fear of sensual pleasure. So many of our culture’s hangups about food come from our culture’s persistant tendency to disconnect eating from pleasure. Food that is fresh, had rich and complex falvors, and is satisfying is not justifiable in it’s own right. That’s why even tasteless unhealthy irredeemable junk food has health claims slapped on the box. Enjoying food and putting time and care into making and eating it is seen as a sign of moral weakness, gluttony, indiscipline, while skinniness is presented as a sort of virtuous mortification of the flesh. In a way, I think this harkens back to the old image of the “angel in the house,” of the woman as a self-denying paragon of virtue who does the moral work that worldly men can’t.

  57. trishka says:

    the thing that comes to me from this photo/article is, as others have stated, 1. that dress does not fit her. and 2. she’s not fat or skinny.

    what i hate absolutely the most out of all of these conversations about weight is that we women are divided into two camps -fat and skinny, when really there is a third, which is “in between” or “not either”. and i just noticed in writing this that we don’t even have a word for what women like nigella lawson are. she’s not fat and she’s not skinny but since we don’t have a word for what she is, we’ll shove her into whatever camp is closest, and since she’s not skinny it must be the fat camp.

    and it ties into the fat=self indulgent/skinny= self-deniers false dichotomy completely, because the truth is that most people are not entirely one or the other. a lot of us try to eat reasonably healthy diets (lots of fresh veggies, limit the processed food, sugar, HFC, that sort of thing) to the extent is economically practical, and also to exercise a reasonable amount, but also like to have treats or to eat food that we enjoy even if it is high-caloric. it’s about balance, living a balanced life, and, with some good choices and some good genetic luck,one can end up with a happy, healthy life & feel good living in ones body.

    but attempts at balance are not particularly newsworthy, so the story has to be reduced to the extremes – fat or skinny, self-indulgent or self-denying, and in both cases women are considered self-hating.

  58. Mary Tracy9 says:

    “I mean, who do these people think that women are competing for and over? Each other?”

    You nailed it with that line.

  59. sophonisba says:

    I thought that dress looked uncomfortable and that she was very clearly wearing the wrong undergarments for it,

    Come again? She’s obviously wearing a bra, and you can’t see the outline of her underwear. What exactly is the problem there? As far as comfort goes, she’s standing up straight and smiling

    Or do you mean by “wrong undergarments” that the natural shape of her body is so visible that she should have compressed it into a smooth, unnatural, tubular sausage with the use of “foundational” undergarments, to distort the shape of her stomach so that nobody can see that it has a shape? I only ask because nobody seems to criticize a woman’s undergarments when they allow you to see the curve or her waist, or the swell of her breasts, even though I dare say industrial-strength undergarments would be quite capable of hiding those unslightly flaws just as well.

    The dress has a few puckers, certainly. A minor fitting issue, if you like. No argument there. The size looks fine to me, but a size up, sure. But that is the only issue. She does not need to strap on an elastic understructure to hide her scarynastybulgy female body from the sight of people who do not know what human stomachs look like, or know but are repulsed by them. No. Just, no. She’s wearing a dress that reveals the shape of her body, which happens to be rather lovely. Squeezing, compressing, cantilevering, and hoisting various bits of it into cringing submission would defeat the purpose of wearing the fucking sexy dress in the first place.

  60. Vanessa says:

    I mean, who do these people think that women are competing for and over? Each other?

    Well, some of them are, I’d guess. Just saying.

  61. Nadai says:

    and i just noticed in writing this that we don’t even have a word for what women like nigella lawson are. she’s not fat and she’s not skinny but since we don’t have a word for what she is, we’ll shove her into whatever camp is closest, and since she’s not skinny it must be the fat camp.

    It’s sort of the “One Drop Rule” for fat. Want to “pass” for pretty? Better stay on the right side of that line.

  62. Sniper says:

    I believe the entire debate has failed in one important point: The focus should not be on being “thin” or being “fat”, it should be on being healthy.

    No, because there is no valid reason for there to be a debate. It is no women’s duty or job to be beautiful – not even women on television. It’s nobody’s damned business if a stranger is fat or thin or why. The whole obesity scare is about casting blame and saving insurance companies a few bucks. The “hot or not” crap is about keeping women in line.

  63. zuzu says:

    Well, some of them are, I’d guess. Just saying.

    I suppose I should have said “these women” to clarify that the kind of people they’re talking about are usually heterosexual women competing for the attention of men. I don’t claim to be any expert on lesbians and their Serious Gaze, but I have gotten the distinct impression that such competition is not nearly as big a factor, or just plays out differently.

  64. annejumps says:

    And it’s not even as simple as fat vs. thin. If you’re thin, even though you have a certain amount of thin privilege you have to be the right type of thin. Take it from me, an Olive Oyl type, a.ka. wrong type of thin. The entire gag of the Olive Oyl-Popeye-Bluto relationship was that they were fighting over someone like her.

    And too, in the past in the West, when only the relatively wealthy were able to consistently afford rich food, being plump was desirable and being thin was not. It was about status. This is about trying to hold people to whatever standards are most difficult to meet at the time.

  65. Kat says:

    Speaking of setting women against each other, has anyone seen the new Quizno’s commercial? It’s the “Flatbread Sammies” one.

    Oh I am so glad you brought that up. I absolutely HATE that commercial. One stereotype (sexy, skinny girl) pitted against another stereotype (mousy, average girl) …. over scraps of food, with the supposed irony that for the first time ever the skinny girl is actually envious of the mousy girl. And to rub salt in the wounds, the mousy girl actually lights up at such a compliment as a skinny girl be jealous of her poor sad self.

    Ugh. Boycott Quizno’s. Make them stop the absurdity.

  66. ELM says:

    Wow – the Times must have thought Julia Childs was built like an elephant… and when is the write up about Paul Prudhomes less-than-svelt figure?

  67. Smartpatrol says:

    I’ve had a baaaaaaaaaaaaad crush on Ms. Lawson for some time now. I watched this video of her (Warning: Chocolate + Lawson = Sinfully Delicious) & all I could think of was how badly I wanted to be the spoon she’s using near the end of the clip. I love to cook, & her picture is the centrepiece of a mini-shrine/veneration shelf just above the stove in my kitchen. So my fury over stupid comments made about her don’t come from a completely unbiased, objective source. What does deflate the stupid things said about her is picturing her actually uttering this quote

    ‘STFU, I am beautiful’.

    & suddenly I can’t stop laughing.

  68. verte says:

    I have mixed feelings about Ms Lawson. On the one hand, yes, she is representative of a different kind of body that men find attractive, etc, etc … BUT! I kind of feel she’s rattling against feminism. There’s one sequence I recall on Nigella Bites where she reminds her audience that she is not ‘some deranged superwoman’. I can’t help but think that her traditionally feminine shape and her domesticity are kind of interlinked, especially in terms of why men find her attractive.

  69. Isabel says:

    Go to the gym, my ass (–the size of should always be irrelevant to other people). Go to the gym? Go to college. Go tutor kids. Go work to make your family secure. Go call your grandmother. Go do the laundry, for God’s sake.

    I think I love you.

  70. preying mantis says:

    “I absolutely HATE that commercial. One stereotype (sexy, skinny girl) pitted against another stereotype (mousy, average girl) …. over scraps of food, with the supposed irony that for the first time ever the skinny girl is actually envious of the mousy girl. And to rub salt in the wounds, the mousy girl actually lights up at such a compliment as a skinny girl be jealous of her poor sad self.”

    I actually figured that whole thing had to do with soap operas (it’s funny because women watch them, you see). The dialogue, the thin actress, film style, etc. seemed to fit, and nothing else really made sense. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time a commercial just didn’t make any sense while still managing to be offensive.

  71. car says:

    Smartpatrol – I’ve never watched Lawson before, but now I love her.

  72. Joe says:

    What is wrong with people? I am raising three girls and I worry about the pressure they endure early on with the barrage of skantily clad hoochie dolls and revealing clothing lines being marketed to them. Society sucks. Good post!

  73. Interrobang says:

    Thank goodness I work in a profession where, even if you get well-known for your work, you’re unlikely to ever become anything resembling a “public figure” (pun intentional in this situation). I don’t think I could handle the pressure without getting shirty at someone, and then I’d have to deal with being called fat and bitchy at the same time. Remind me again how sexism is supposedly a thing of the past?

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