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When Did… Become Better Than… ?

February 6, 2012

Health nuts kind of annoy me. Having to sit through another dinner where my step-mom goes on one of her health rants sounds a little bit like torture. Let me have a little butter in peace, why don’t you?! If you were going to give me the evil eye while I ate a piece of blueberry pie, why did you make it in the first place?!

Don’t get me wrong, while I want to eat my huge sticky bun in peace, I also believe that drinking 2 to 3 liters of water is a miracle cure for everything and I dig the whole yoga holistic scene just as much as the next chick. What really gets me though, is the discourse between health and beauty, or health and being thin, and the contradictions and assumptions that smack you right in the face every time you open a women’s magazine at the checkout line.

Take the meme pictured above for instance, not only is it mean in nature by pitting one woman against another in some kind of beauty contest, but it makes the assumption that health and beauty are somehow related.

At first glance, it seems kind of funny. In a “yay, meat, butter, and desserts” kind of way, suggesting for once, that a healthy diet and lifestyle won’t make you beautiful and that it’s okay to eat all those things on the forbidden list. But one thing has nothing to do with the other. They (whoever they is) are creating a false discourse between food, health, and beauty. The picture and copy don’t take into account genetics, perceived notions of beauty, and the tricky use of photography.

When I first saw the “When did this… become hotter than this” meme on Facebook, I liked it. I will never have Keira Knightley’s body. Not unless, I starve myself half to death, which isn’t to say anyone who is thin had to starve themselves, just that my genetics don’t lean towards that side of the scale. I’m just as tired as everyone by the whole “thin is better” discourse and I love seeing examples that speak to the opposite in the media, but there’s a real problem when it’s done in a careless manner.

My personal aesthetics lends themselves well to the women portrayed in the bottom half of that picture. I love curves, and some of those women are vintage icons. I like it. But that doesn’t mean that skinny women aren’t equally beautiful. Pitting one set of women against another is just more of the same discourse. Supporting body acceptance and fat-positive discourse doesn’t mean excluding other types of bodies, it’s about including everyone. It’s about giving a voice and a place in society for every kind person, every kind of body.

So, although, I think it’s great that people are finally getting interested in the ways in which beauty and the idea of beauty have been shaped by media, I don’t think it’s fair, or even nice, to do it in a way that suggests one is better than the other. When women who looked like Marilyn Monroe were considered the height of beauty, magazines bombarded women with ads that were aimed at making them feel bad about being too skinny. How is it better to shame someone for being too skinny than shaming them for being too fat?

More of the same… I’d like the above picture much better if it read: “Fuck society, this is as attractive as this.” Instead of “more than.” Although, I find Marilyn Monroe to be one hell of a pretty lady, the above rhetoric is much too dismissive and reductive for my taste.

The above picture is much better. At least, it doesn’t fall back on comparing one type of body to another. It just points out that you can be desirable even if your thighs touch, which is true (duh?), but it doesn’t do so by dismissing the fact that you can be just as attractive if your thighs don’t touch (also, duh?).

21 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2012 10:19 pm

    I like how the same photo of Marilyn appears in a series of comparisons till it’s just her! You’re right, beauty should be appreciated in an of itself, not in comparison to some ideal.
    I don’t think the starvation look ever really did take over…just in the media, not in real life. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution don’t go away just ’cause the fashion industry is run by people who prefer boyish figures.

  2. February 6, 2012 10:28 pm

    Haha, totally not done on purpose, but now that you mention it the order in which I posted the pics is pretty cool when you look at it like that.

    What you said about “real life” made me think of something else I wanted to say. I know this isn’t what you were implying, but it bothers me when people say stuff like “real women have curves” or “models aren’t real women” and stuff along those lines. Just the concept of “real women” with whatever adjective you can add to that statement is troublesome, especially if you think of gender. It’s just really dismissive and reductive to everyone who doesn’t possess said adjective. That was just one of the things I wanted to add. Thanks, for reminding me.

  3. Gillian Colbert permalink
    February 7, 2012 11:58 am

    Excellent post. I think what is forever being forgotten is that it’s all about moderation. Anything in excess is bad.

    Another thing people often lose track of is that health is now an industry, a multi-billion dollar industry, so of course they want to sell you on being what they define as healthy … otherwise you don’t buy the special frozen dinners or kill yourself at the gym to make the health industry CEOs rich.

  4. Gillian Colbert permalink
    February 7, 2012 11:59 am

    Reblogged this on Black Door Press and commented:
    Excellent post by Ms. Olga over at Cuntlove. I thought I’d share it here since she says it better than I will …

  5. February 7, 2012 12:06 pm

    is there a love button?

  6. February 7, 2012 12:19 pm

    Amazing post!

  7. February 7, 2012 12:52 pm

    Reblogged this on adamsdaughter and commented:
    Please read this amazing re-blogged post regarding the juxtaposition between health and beauty.

  8. February 7, 2012 1:02 pm

    There’s also a difference between curvy and straight up fat. A girl who eats a little too much but also lifts a little too much weight would probably come out looking pretty damn good. Girls think if they lift weights they’ll be a bodybuilder in a week. No. Those goons dedicate their lives to being shallow and being in the gym. A girl needs to have something to grab onto. I shouldn’t be able to punch through your torso.

  9. February 7, 2012 6:52 pm

    Thanks you guys for reblogging and commenting. That’s awesome.

    On the subject of health: There’s this book I really want to read called: “Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality.”

    Amazon describes it as: “You see someone smoking a cigarette and say,“Smoking is bad for your health,” when what you mean is, “You are a bad person because you smoke.” You encounter someone whose body size you deem excessive, and say, “Obesity is bad for your health,” when what you mean is, “You are lazy, unsightly, or weak of will.” You see a woman bottle-feeding an infant and say,“Breastfeeding is better for that child’s health,” when what you mean is that the woman must be a bad parent. You see the smokers, the overeaters, the bottle-feeders, and affirm your own health in the process. In these and countless other instances, the perception of your own health depends in part on your value judgments about others, and appealing to health allows for a set of moral assumptions to fly stealthily under the radar.

    Against Health argues that health is a concept, a norm, and a set of bodily practices whose ideological work is often rendered invisible by the assumption that it is a monolithic, universal good. And, that disparities in the incidence and prevalence of disease are closely linked to disparities in income and social support. To be clear, the book’s stand against health is not a stand against the authenticity of people’s attempts to ward off suffering. Against Health instead claims that individual strivings for health are, in some instances, rendered more difficult by the ways in which health is culturally configured and socially sustained.

    The book intervenes into current political debates about health in two ways. First, Against Health compellingly unpacks the divergent cultural meanings of health and explores the ideologies involved in its construction. Second, the authors present strategies for moving forward. They ask, what new possibilities and alliances arise? What new forms of activism or coalition can we create? What are our prospects for well-being? In short, what have we got if we ain’t got health? Against Health ultimately argues that the conversations doctors, patients, politicians, activists, consumers, and policymakers have about health are enriched by recognizing that, when talking about health, they are not all talking about the same thing. And, that articulating the disparate valences of “health” can lead to deeper, more productive, and indeed more healthy interactions about our bodies.”

    Sounds like a great book. Interesting ideas.

  10. February 8, 2012 11:04 am

    Great post! I couldn’t agree more!
    Give me a “real woman” any day!

  11. February 8, 2012 4:11 pm

    That’s just my point, right? We’re all real women.

  12. Patrick permalink
    February 8, 2012 8:34 pm

    At first I read this post very quickly and realized that, I missed several of the details and had to read it again. It really got me thinking about several things. When did this…become hotter than this caught my attention. It made be think beyond the when to thinking about why it happened. As mentioned in an earlier comment the health industry is huge along with marketing and advertising. What factors have caused us to start to think this way? Was there a particular event that got us here?

    This post reminded me of a play that I read the other day called “reasons to be pretty” by Neil LaBute. I don’t want to ruin it for people who have not read it. In one scene the lead female character states that she cannot be with a man who does not like her appearance even though her boyfriend likes her just the way she is. There was quite a bit of thought and effort that went into this post and I hope that my comment is up to the challenge.

  13. February 9, 2012 12:38 am

    I’ve seen a few Neil Labute movies, but I’ve never read any of his plays. I should get on that, I keep meaning to. Sounds like a goo one.

    As for, the factors that got “us thinking this way,” I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that. So many things come into play, from the health industry to fashion, commerce, class, gender, race, etc. The past is usually easier to analyze than the present. For instance, when you think of certain fashions in history, they all had their specific meaning. Like when whitening powder was so popular (back in the…. I don’t know.. think Marie Antoinette) it was a signifier of your station in life. It meant that you were rich enough to not have to work in the fields and thus get tanned by the sun. Conversely, having a couple extra pounds in a certain period of time was popular, because it signified that you could afford to gorge yourself on rich food.

  14. February 9, 2012 11:57 am

    I liked the post a I loved the comment that you’re all “real women”. I get so annoyed when people say oh real women don’t look like that/ real women don’t do those things. Like seriously?! I’m pretty sure that woman over is real and she seems to be/doing the opposite of what you jut said. Idk, maybe she didn’t get the real women memo. Probably a good thing. Well anyway hopefully people will realize woman is a word that encompasses a spectrum and not an static image.

  15. February 9, 2012 4:49 pm

    So true, “woman” is a word that encompasses a whole spectrum, from high femme, to asexual, to gender queer, to trangender, etc, etc, etc. There’s a lot of wiggle room in just that one word. It should never be used to limit or dismiss anyone. Same thing with “man” there’s a lot of room there that doesn’t necessarily fit with the idea of “masculinity,”

  16. Kitty permalink
    February 18, 2012 12:04 am

    Hmm if only everyone (including my mum who thinks beauty = big boobs, non existent bum, tiny waist, which isn’t me at all) could realise that everyone is beautiful in their own way.

    Btw the book you mentioned, reflects some of the stuff I looked during my studies of health psych. Very interesting course. I remember my lecturer saying that people consider health to be the new religion, for example, smoking is bad for your health and therefore people who smoke are bad etc. Made me question society’s values quite a bit, for example why do we think thin = health? Or how in my country it seems that people think that Western ideas of health and medicine are superior or the only way we can medicate ourselves and be healthy. I could go on.

  17. February 19, 2012 4:13 pm

    It’s definitely an interesting subject. I definitely want to read the book I mentioned. It’s on my to-read list. The idea that thin=equals health is very ingrained in Western culture (I don’t know about the rest of the world) and it couldn’t be more false. Even when people accept the fact that there are some “overweight” people that are much healthier than “thin” people, they still revert back to the old mentality.

  18. Kitty permalink
    February 19, 2012 11:44 pm

    When I was younger I did a degree in human nutrition and psych and back then, it did feel like thin = healthy (in most cases except for if you were pure muscle), because we relied on BMI (knowing all the flaws of it), you know BMI over 25 = overweight. I just wonder if I can really trust stuff like that. I mean who is funding this research? Weight loss product companies? Or someone who genuinely cares about accurate results? I don’t know, makes me lose faith in this whole nutrition thing.

  19. February 20, 2012 6:48 pm

    The sad reality is that most “research” is paid by companies that have a vested interest in the results.


  1. When Did… Become Better Than… ? « Black Door Press
  2. When Did… Become Better Than… ? « adamsdaughter

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