Tuesday, March 4, 2008

It's about health, you know

I have been reading Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting, by Gina Kolata.

One of the things she mentions early in the book is, right around the turn of the 20th century, upper-class woman would corset themselves into 10-inch waists, then carefully cultivate an image of illness and frailty. The fashion of being invalids who were sickly and swooning all the time, pale and thin, was unattainable for working-class women, who needed functional bodies to survive in the real world.

A "functional body" is one that is not corseted to a diameter of 18". For a woman to have the strength and endurance to work and raise her family, she needs to eat and breathe well. A woman who has servants and wealth may have the luxury of voluntary debility, but for such a state to be a desirable trait that a man would seek in a potential spouse? He isn't interested in a healthy, happy partner; he wants a living decoration, a waiflike doll to control and use. Working class men did not have as much "luxury"--they needed strong, healthy spouses for their families to succeed, and therefore needed to accept that they would not have as much control over their wives.

The craze for thinness, especially in women, has its roots in keeping women subservient to men. If we are hungry, undernourished, and sickly, then we are easier to control. Fat is a feminist issue.

17 comments:

Anwen said...

The craze for thinness, especially in women, has its roots in keeping women subservient to men. If we are hungry, undernourished, and sickly, then we are easier to control.

Exactly! But don't forget "and thinking constantly about how much (or little) food they are eating" - most diets encourage followers to be constantly vigilant about any tiny piece of food they may ingest, and record it, often along with a 'diary' of what they were feeling at the time. Who has time to do that and crush the patriarchy? Or even just, you know, have time for a life.

Mercurior said...

i would say it was the upper class. Many a lower class group or working class, they didnt care about size of shape. as you said.

But if you look, its the women themselves that chose to look like that. During the industrial revolution, women worked the same hours as men these are working class people. only after a few years they stopped children, then stopped women. these were pressure groups that made women stop working, generally run by women(middle class).

fat isnt a feminist issue its a class issue. my whole family have been working class, builders and publicans, and in the real world they lived in men worked during the summer building, and in winter they owned pubs, but the women owned the pubs in name. these are working class people.

its the middle class, even now changes the body shape of people, being fat today affects men as well, more anorexic males, more men with eating disorders.. So to say fat is a feminist issue, denies anything that affects men.

fat and thinness is a class issue.

as you said "upper-class woman would corset themselves into 10-inch waists, then carefully cultivate an image of illness and frailty. The fashion of being invalids who were sickly and swooning all the time, pale and thin, was unattainable for working-class women, who needed functional bodies to survive in the real world" so it was the upper classes that focused on size, which told middle class and working that to be successful you have to be thin. did men force them into the corsets. or did these upper clas women choose to look like that to put forth the ide of weakness to get what they could out of men.

Just a thought.

Mercurior said...

look at the names of the diets, they are there to attract snobs. diets are a fashion statement, to ape the middle and upper classes, you have to be like them.

http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2007/s1916282.htm

Melbourne professor is warning that the problem of obesity in Australian children is a class issue. It's estimated that a quarter of Australian children are overweight or obese.

And a study published in today's Medical Journal of Australia has found that most of these children will carry that weight into adulthood.

Boyd Swinburn though, says children from low social-economic backgrounds are putting on more weight than those from middle class and wealthy families.

**the actresses, the more obvious stars, they push for diets, they are the new upper class. Men never worked in the lingerie departments, women did. women designed lingerie, men didnt.

men may have wanted a certain look, but no one was forced to wear it. so In reality it was a womans choice, to wear things made by women.

but as i said it is really an upper class thing. not male- female, to blame being fat as being a feminist issue, make more problems. when in reality being fat is a class issue

ciocia said...

I am amazed to read this. In the non-fatosphere, we are deluged with dumb stereotypes of how fat people live--how they sit around munching donuts in front of the t.v. But the fatosphere is full of equally dumb stereotypes--skinny women who are weak and puny, or people too obsessed with food diaries to challenge the patriarchy or have a life.
Being thin does not necessarily make you "hungry, undernourished, and sickly." Sometimes weight loss can add to physical mobility and fitness. FA seems bent to build dignity and respect for fat people on the ridicule of others, the way fat haters do.

Sarah said...

Ciocia, you missed the point of the article. What was being talked about was how women were expected to look in the turn of the 20th century - and how that may have contributed to the hysteria against fat people today.

The blog post is specifically about people who are obsessed with being thin - not people who are naturally that way.

And you're little poke about weight loss leading to better life was duly noted. It's assumed that the poor fatties can't get around and exercise - wrong.

Sarah said...

* And your little poke.

ciocia said...

Sarah, I'm not assuming fat people don't get any, or enough exercise. But losing weight improved on mine. I didn't turn into a weakling or an obsessive nutjob.

Harpy said...

Mercurior, I'd say that class issues are feminist issues. Race discrimination is a feminist issue. Age discrimination is a feminist issue. Disability rights are feminist issues. Men's issues are feminist issues. The patriarchy is pretty all-encompassing and it's bad for everyone except those few rich men at the top.

The history of corsets is fraught with myths and half-truths. I'm an enthusiastic amateur costume historian, and the 15"-18" waist is fashion victim territory: upper class and some middle class women demonstrating their willingness to comply with the fashions that declared one's femininity, taken to the extreme. I do not blame women for doing things such as that, as women have always been shamed, humiliated, ridiculed, and far worse for not complying with the feminine ideal of the day. It's a survival tactic. Be a good girl and maybe you'll get to live your life in relative peace.

(In the late Victorian and Edwardian period, there were women who wore "artistic dress" - inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and pre-Raphaelite artists - consisting of loose robes. They were considered pretty outrageous and "bohemian" (they were often wives and lovers of the artists), and while was a short-lived fad for "mainstream" women to wear that style, but they soon returned to more restrictive dress.)

But back to the 18" waist. The women who did this regularly were like the Victoria Beckhams and Paris Hiltons of the day, and were similarly held up as aspirational figures for other upper-class women and as fetish objects for men. The vast majority of women who wore corsets didn't tightlace except perhaps for special occasions, like regular women today might put on the push-up bra and the 3.5" heels for a party. Most corsets were relatively practical - working women found them useful as back support, and women with breasts sized other than tiny used them as support. A good non-restrictive corset is actually better support for large breasts than modern bras because the weight is distributed onto the hips, which are load-bearing bones, rather than trying to support via a narrow band around the torso, and shoulder straps. They weren't heavily steel-boned usually, but shaped with hemp or cotton cording, or whalebone (baleen - which is pretty light and flexible). The steel boning came in in the very late Victorian and Edwardian corsets, and was of course popular with the tightlacers.

Nobody ever had a rib removed to create a smaller corseted waist, either. :) That idea is believed to have come from Victorian men's "newsletters", which were all about the fetishisation of corsets and women who wore them. Kind of like a proto-Penthouse Letters. Rib removal, 13" waists, extreme 24/7 tightlacing, neck-to-knee corsets, all that - fantasy. Possibly there were people who engaged in some more, er, interesting practices, but they are thought to be pretty rare.

We know from extant Victorian garments that waists mostly sized at 22" - 28", which isn't that small really considering that people were physically smaller anyway. Also if you have a custom-made corset they can be pretty comfortable even if you do tightlace, but that's like saying women whoud wear 3" heels all the time just because there are some kinds that are relatively comfortable.

HOWEVER! I don't think any of this negates Rio's argument at all, being that there are certain expectations women are constantly told they must meet, or they're not "real" women, not feminine enough. Complying with the fashions of the day is but one way to demonstrate a woman's supposed willingness to do what she's told, and the women who are best at it are rewarded and encouraged. It's damned hard to remove yourself from the mindset, so I do not blame women who participate in self-oppression, whether the upper-class Victorian woman uncomfortably tightlacing or a modern wannabe-celebrity starving and surgically modifying herself. I blame this poisonous culture we have.

And there's a big difference between Victorian society and ours: mass consumerism. Thanks to the proliferation of cheap goods and ubiquitous marketing, even lower-class women are expected to comply with fashion as a marker of their femininity. In previous eras, it was not the done thing to dress above one's station, and, say, a washerwoman may well have been reprimanded for trying to look too much like a middle-class housewife, and so on. All women are now expected to become thin and wear certain fashions (whether from a designer or a knock-off knock-off knock-off from Wal-Mart) and to aspire to celebrity starlet or trophy wife look and status. Even if they can't afford it, they should still express their desire to "better" themselves.

RioIriri said...

I should probably know better than to respond to trolling, but whatever.

ciocia, a person whose body is trying to be fat, while they are trying to maintain a thinner body, IS undernourished and hungry. Ancel Keyes saw it in his research. The "lifestyle changes" needed to make a fat person permanently thin are changes that require learning to live with constant hunger.

Of course, if you'd bother to read the stuff we post, instead of just getting your panties in a wad over it, you'd understand that.

A naturally thin person, of course, is not going to be the same way. It's people who are fighting against their bodies to become and remain who have the health issues of being sickly and hungry.

You will not see me insulting thin people in my blog, because I don't do that. I will state that becoming unnaturally thin is not easy or healthy. That's not an insult to thin people. For god's sake, I am married to a thin person who is very healthy and eats more food than I've ever seen anyone eat before. As a naturally thin person, he is healthy and happy.

Stop acting like you're some kind of victim here. Christ.

Anwen said...

Cioca - I think you've missed the point a bit. Noone said *all* thin women are sickly or obsessive or whatever, but a lot of people (including me) would, in order to become thin, let alone stand a chance of staying thin, need to expend a huge amount of our energy on food diaries and Not Eating What We Want To and constant exercise etc.

Until I had my daughter (age 20) I weighed around 120lbs. Since then, along with other physical changes (such as breast developments which happen during pregnancy, changes to the hip alignment etc) I have been varying weights between 120 and 160lb, I'm now approx 160. I have twice got down to my pre pregnancy weight, once by having a nervous breakdown where I couldn't eat and was subsisting on liquid meal thingies for convalescent people, and once by becoming very obsessive indeed about counting calories and exercising an hour or two each day (which I only had time for because I was working a 12 hour week very close to home - I am a disabled single mum and am lucky if I find time to have a bath every day...)

Maria said...

so, cioca, you're telling us that this size-zero craze is in fact, good for mobility and health? Im not talking about losing a little weight or starting more exercise for health reasons, im talking about the fashion side of things. You cannot argue that being excessively thin (LIKE attaining to a size zero) improves peoples health. Its a fact that many women try and be thin to follow fashion - and because they can't get thin enough they start doing it in dreadfully unhealthy ways.

Excercise and eating nutritiously is good for mobility, the immune system, the mind and general wellbeing. Those things are what improve your health, NOT the weight loss that may result from them. For some these may never lead to a dramatic weight loss, or any at all.

FA is not built on stereotypes of thin people. There are many naturally thin people regardless of lifestyle, there are many who live an active and healthy lifestyle who are thin as a side-effect of it, and there are many many more who would not be thin if they did not resort to extreme measures. That last group, that is the group we are talking about when we come to obsession and destructive habits which damage health and keep the mind focused on food and excercise habits.

And our societies standard for thinness in women is horribly unattainable for anyone who is not already naturally close to it or able to spend 24/7 on 'improving' their bodies. As far as I can tell, many of the women in hollywood are verging on underweight if they are not already. women with 'normal' Bmi's, not even a bmi high in the normal range, are called fat - what message other than attractive women have to be rail thin does this send?

Mercurior, I see what you are saying and I agree that fat is a class issue. Its also a feminist issue at the same time - our societies beauty ideals may be perpetuated by women, but that is because women are told they are worthy and accepted if they adhere to them. Its a self-fulfilling prophecy.

saffikins said...

(I uh, got logged out of google/blogger and cant post a comment under my name because i cant remember my password. Im maria, AKA apricotmuffins AKA saffikins.)

man, EVERYONE commented before me!

also, in one of my college essays I made a link between the victorian fashion for tightlacing and the size zero craze, for the exact reasons harpy made. In fact, harpy wins the day. hee.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

It's true that a lot women who diet down to socially acceptable weights aren't physically weak. They're hungry and distracted-- that's bad, but it's a different sort of bad. It's interesting that in an era of physical work, the attack on women was to keep them physically weak, and now that mental work is more important, the attack is to keep women distracted.

I don't think the intent of crazy weight standards is to keep women down. The idea is to push people into fulfilling someone else's fantasy without regard to the cost. It's the kind of thing that happens to people who are already of low status.

As far as I can tell from trolls, they want to only have thin women around, and *not* *care* about the cost to the women. If a woman talks about the cost, she's criticized for not being willing to endure it, but what trolls obsess about is their revulsion at fat women, not at how hungry dieters get.

Kira said...

Exactly - just what I was trying to say, only more concise and coherent. Thank you!

And ciocia, I think you also missed the point in another way. We're not saying that all thin people are undernourished and sickly. We're saying that "undernourished and sickly" is what the dominant culture (i.e., the patriarchy) is promoting for women, in (large) part to keep them subservient. Just look at most Hollywood starlets - would you call those waif-thin women strong and healthy? You can absolutely be thin and healthy - if your body's set point allows you to be within the "thin" range while still eating nutritious food. Not everybody's body allows them to do this. And very few people can be healthy while maintaining the ultra-thin size 0 body that's considered desireable.

Karen said...

As a natural size 0 I'd like to say that its all in genetics. I used to be that tiny person who constantly got the comment, "Wow, you're stronger than you look." It became quite obvious to me, at a fairly early age, that it is assumed that if you are thin (and/or appear to be underweight) it is assumed that you have sacrificed to get there, and one of the things it is assumed that you sacrifice is solidity. I eat. When I'm lifting things as more than a once off I even get above the standard 2000 cal diet for the normal sized people. But I'm small, so people assume that I'm weak. I don't work out. I eat enough fat in my diet that I have that layer women are supposed to have. But I'm tiny, so I don't eat as much as the 6-footers, so people think I diet.

Diet values are so ingrained in our culture that even a naturally thin person is assumed to be dieting if they don't eat a "normal" amount at every meal. And they are assumed to be weaker, because no one actually has any experience with the kind of work a healthy, well fed female is capable of doing.

Mercurior said...

maria, yes its both, its not just one specific area, i see it more a case of class struggle, upper classes, being shown as being better because they are like this.

which makes a lot of people think being like this must make you better, so i must be like this.

If you are different, then you are somehow morally defective. the lower classes want to be like the upper class, the upper class need to be looked up to. This is one of the reasons i beleive that all this about the weight comes about, the normal everyday people dont necessarily believe you bave to be thin to be great, you can be great for lots of reasons, its when paris hilton, victoria beckham, who are the new class the middle class, they try to put the ideals that my class is better than yours, because i am thin thats when you get so much damage.

harpy i would disagree, at least in your terminology, rights are not just for men or women, however it seems to be today. i am more of an equalist, equal rights for everyone regardless. but i agree in general.

Its when size is linked to self worth. i know a lot of thin women, some of them are the nicest people, some are not, some large women are nice some are not. Its when society, says you have to be size zero or whatever size is currently in vogue. and people are pressured into trying to attain an unfeasible body shape.

People should love their own selfs, their own bodies. How can you accept others if you dont accept yourself. I am talking about those people who are so obsessed about their own size that it affects everyone around them and not to the good.

Sarah said...

Ciocia, good for you. Go share your "success" with somebody who cares. But it seems like you lost nothing but brain mass, which is sad for you.

And heads up - this blog is redirecting to another link for some reason. I don't know what causes that!