As a member of the Order of Fat Curmudgeonly Feminist Hermits, there are few months that I view with more trepidation than June. Not only am I deluged with invitations to social events I dread attending, but I’m also deeply immersed in the advertising that surrounds such social events.
I am referring, of course, to pool parties and weddings.
You’d think that I’d be fans of both of these events because they involve many of my favourite things, like water, free food, dancing, and opportunities to observe drunk people in their natural habitat. However, there’s a big elephant in the room at these events. The elephant in the room being, naturally, the lack of elephants in the room; if you plan on attending a pool party or being the guest of honour at a wedding, you had better be as svelte as possible.
‘Bathing suit season,’ as it is known, starts ramping up several months in advance. I am reminded at every turn that I only have [x] weeks to ‘get fit for bathing suit season’ and I am exhorted to do so by starving myself, taking questionable nutritional supplements, or busting my hump at the gym. It is also gently suggested that pasty-ass winter-white flesh is not acceptable for the summer months and that I should hie myself to a tanning salon ASAP to ‘get a base tan,’ whatever that is, so as not to stand out like the Beacon of Whiteness that I am.
Few things, evidently, are more terrifying than a pale fattie in a bathing suit. Stretch marks! Flab! Highly reflective skin glossed to a sheen with the judicious application of sunscreen! The horrors! The very thought seems to offend some delicate sensibilities to the core; I can only assume that they would faint dead away at the sight of the, shall we say, clothing optional swimming venues I prefer to frequent.
This advertising is couched in ways that suggest it’s about you and your body but of course it’s really just the opposite. It’s about getting your body ready for public consumption, because, of course, ladies, your bodies are public property and you are expected to keep them in the ‘best’ physical condition at all times in order to satisfy the eyes of anyone who may encounter you. Being fat, or being pale, is just offensive and icky! You’ll never catch a mate that way! Everyone will be too embarrassed to invite you to social occasions! (Boy oh boy, I wish that were true, then I’d stop getting all these damn invitations.)
This is pretty much the antithesis to celebrating your body. It’s all about hating your body so much that you will feel compelled to change it.
Somehow, I manage to valiantly ignore most of the ‘too fat for summer’ propaganda, primarily because, well, I’m a hermit and I have awesome friends who don’t give a flying fuck about my pasty white ass at the river. Living in other settings? Having more judgmental friends? Having less confidence in my completely kickass and totally hot body? I could see how the endless tide of marketing could take a serious toll.
And then comes marriage and the wedding industry, which uses every conceivable means to remind women getting ready for their weddings that their bodies must be absolutely perfect, by which is meant ‘thin, thin, thin.’ (Oh, but not too thin, because everyone knows that people who are too thin are ‘gross’ or ‘coathangers’ or whatever the current popular bodysnark is at the moment.)
Along the way, it reminds women that they should spend vast amounts of money on their weddings, even if it means bankrupting themselves, their partners, and their families, and there are some very interesting class components to explore with the way the ‘perfect wedding’ is packaged and marketed.
Really, some of these companies get downright dastardly. They dangle the threat of ugly wedding pictures over stressed out brides. Point out that fitting and tailoring a wedding dress can take weeks to months so you should get started with the thinning down as soon as possible so as not to ruin the fit. Reminding people that everyone hates a fat bride. Concern trolling people with messages about ‘health.’ Assuming that of course brides will be losing weight, because surely everyone could take off a weensie bit more, right?
And, of course, telling people that they need to please their partners by being several sizes smaller at the altar. Remember, ladies, it’s ultimately not about you, but about shaping your body to please others. And everyone knows that people getting married to women secretly wish that those women were just a bit smaller, gosh golly doughnuts, that would make the wedding just perfect.
Here’s something a lot of these stories don’t cover: Crash dieting and fitness programs can be dangerous. Sometimes, they are deadly. This propaganda blatantly ignores the fact that women are dying, have died, in pursuit of an ideal that will forever remain just out of reach because the goal posts constantly shift. ‘Oh, you’ve gotten down to a size four, that’s goooood. Of course, a two would be better, but no, I’m sure a four is fine.’ And it ignores the role of disordered eating in many lives, and how triggering encountering this kind of material can be for people who are in recovery.
I encounter a lot of this material secondhand, primarily through feminist critiques of the wedding industry and the tremendous pressure it puts on brides to be perfect, even if being perfect really requires being superhuman. What I do find routinely makes me blanch. Every time I think I’ve seen the worst, some vile marketing campaign has to go and burst my bubble, kick things up just one more notch.
As it is, all I have to do for weddings is show up wearing something reasonably respectable and trying to prevent my effervescent and incandescent hotness from eclipsing the couple on their big day while keeping a wary eye on the buffet in case it tries to make a break for it.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be planning a wedding and to be inundated in this stuff. Somehow, the wedding industry has unerring radar for people who are getting married and they start delivering targeted marketing to your inbox and your mailbox, the sidebars of your social networking sites, and anywhere else they think they can ensnare you. No matter how tangential or vague the connection, they will find you. A friend of mine who is a jeweler routinely gets this kind of stuff because she does custom work for married couples and thus evidently appears to fit the profile of ‘someone who will be getting married.’ The stuff she shows me is really quite breathtaking. I can see how easy it would be to get sucked in.
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