Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vanity, vanity...all is vanity!

Something I am not prone to do on my blog is to feature another writer...which is probably something I should do...especially since part of this post concerns vanity!  First read the following,  by Leona Palmer from The Huffington Post, (June 22, 2010), then my comments, and then, please make yours!

What do Julia Roberts, Jamie Oliver, Full Figure Fashion Week, and my grandmother have in common? Dinner.

In a recent post I described the death of the supermodel. It seems that her death was followed almost immediately by the deaths of the middle class and the middle bodied--tied together by the purse strings. Last week confirmed my suspicions. 
Late one night Pretty Woman caught my eye, and a moment in the film struck me. When no one on Rodeo Drive will help Roberts' character, the hotel manager sends her to a personal shopper at a department store. As soon as she sees Julia, she comments, "So you are about a size 6." Roberts is amazed at her eye, saying "How'd you know?" and they go on to laugh about the specialized knowledge of certain professions. The exchange seemed so notable because, at this moment in our culture, it's unimaginable that a young, beautiful, popular starlet would identify her body, in character or out, as a size 6. It's practically an elephantine number in Hollywood, for some a dirty little secret. 
Recently I'd also been caught up in Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, in which he takes on our school lunches. Factory farming, high fructose corn syrup, chemical preservatives/additives, and diabetes are dire factors that need to be addressed immediately. But I was saddened by the fact that most of the families and schools cited finances or budgets as the primary reason for feeding food to their children that they knew was bad for them. Industry spends billions of dollars inventing new flavors of chips and soft drinks, but in the aisle these empty calories are cheaper than basic produce. 
In this economy cable television, gym memberships, and dining out are the first cuts. We all know that eating in saves money. Yet the grocery bill itself comes under intense scrutiny. As someone who remembers the exact taste and texture of commodity foods, especially the cheese, I'm intimately familiar with the pains my mother took to feed our family in the mid-eighties. My parents are avid gardeners and we ate loads of fresh, free produce in the summer. But there were also hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, lots of pb&j sandwiches, and the look on her face as she balanced that checkbook each month. Children record all these moments in HD.

Two young girls I met on location last weekend (shooting at a lake in New Jersey) noted that our snacks were from the expensive grocery store in town, and one stated "No one does a Roll Back like Wal-Mart, you can get an eight-pack of Reese's peanut butter cups for one dollar!" My inner child got excited about that. But my inner child used to be overweight. So when pundits note that one out of three children are severely overweight or obese, my heartstrings go taut. 
Moving to NYC and walking everywhere, followed rapidly by yoga, farmers' markets, a modeling contract and a nutritionist all reformed my relationship to my body and my health. When the New York Times covered Full Figured Fashion Week recently, they focused predominately on obesity and the resulting business opportunities in the enlargement of America. Money spent in the grocery store, money spent on larger wardrobes--they seemed to be drawing a direct line. 
Clearly there is a relationship between what we eat, how active we are, and our health. But I bristle at the notion that a woman who doesn't fit a size 6 or even 12 means that she is essentially unhealthy. The irony is not lost on me when, at many photo shoots, I am making the same lunch choices and swapping nutritional advice with the size 2 model. Plus modeling has become a safety net for many of the taller, larger-framed models who cannot maintain the razor-edge silhouette required, even with an eating disorder. (We cannot ignore the health risks also suffered by those chronically underweight, as opposed to obese.) After transitioning to "plus" they generally settle at a healthy 10-14, presumably their natural size, but still read "thin" on camera. 
One of Michael Pollan's guidelines in Food Rules is to eat food that your grandmother would recognize. My grandmother grew up in the 'twenties on a farm in northern Wisconsin. In many pictures she is on her way to feed the livestock, milk the cows, and work in the garden or the house. This is not a sedentary woman. By all accounts she ate plenty of eggs and potatoes, fruit and vegetables both fresh and preserved, meat more rarely. All organic we can assume. But her frame was not exactly slender. Seeing these pictures revolutionized my idea of myself. They reconciled my ideal of beauty with my gene pool. I finally understood that being healthy is not a result of my jean size, but of my habits and my personal care--whatever the number on my clothes, my cholesterol and blood sugar are in good shape. 
Food has become the enemy because we cannot make peace with our bodies, small or large. There is an egregious assumption that if we adhere to a balanced diet of healthy foods and get regular exercise, we will have the perfect movie star body. Most of us won't. This is the propaganda of diet gurus, personal trainers, and a media industry of extreme fads, quick fixes, and unsustainable programs for sale. The problem is that "healthy diet" and "weight-loss diet" are not the same; neither are "active lifestyle" and "athletic conditioning." Healthy moderation may not get the airbrushed cover of a magazine to show up in the mirror, but we'll be far from obese. 
Two tummies: the six-pack of cultural media or the flab of the food industry. Choosing becomes a constant struggle. Do we live in a state of rigid deprivation or let ourselves go entirely? Do we count calories or dollars? All because we've made it too expensive to be healthy and at the same time believe that being healthy means being impossibly thin and forever young. This dead-end struggle is what our children absorb.
Our bodies are extraordinary, built to carry us through life on waves of sensory perception and emotion. If we put power into taking care of them instead of altering or ignoring them, we could settle into a healthy range of sizes and shapes. Freed from being terrorized by media fantasies. Divorcing our idea of health from our size, but instead to the quality of life: how much energy we have, how our food was grown, and how we feel after eating it. 
We want children to have a positive body image and real, affordable, and nutritious food on their plates. Which means we cannot remain obsessed with attaining the perfect body or ignore the situation in American grocery stores, because doing so is becoming lethal to the most innocent among us.


Interesting, no?  Over the past year I have lost a significant amount weight.  I see this as no reason to celebrate at the moment, simply because losing weight has never been a problem for me.  Once I make up my mind to, the weight comes off quite easily.  However, the huge challenge for me has been KEEPING IT OFF!  So, I will have a celebration in the year 2015 if my weight is still within 5 pounds one way or the other of what it is today, (or has been since the end of April).  I have a long way to go before any sort of victory can be declared.

Back in 1983 a series of things happened to me as regards my weight.  First of all, let me say that I have always been a big person...tall (5'11-1/2"), and with a large frame, so I have never been a light-weight.  But all those years ago, after our first two boys were born, I made an effort to trim down, and did.  This was followed by a long siege of very poor health, but the two are not related.  In any event, my weight has fluctuated wildly over the last 27 years or so - from quite obese (primarily caused by medication, but also by eating too much for all the wrong reasons) to what one of my sisters-in-love refers to as "gaunt."   Anyway, back in '83, after I had gotten my weight down, I had to purchase some new clothes.  My two most prized purchases were a couple of pairs of Calvin Klein jeans, size 12.  Wow!  I thought, I have really done it this time!  Through all of the ensuing years and various sizes, I saved those two pairs of jeans (the only clothes I did save, because I loved them and they represented so much to me at the time).  As of about a month ago, I have been able to wear them again.  They are a bit large around the hips, and in the seat, but the waist is comfortable, and they don't look like I'm swimming in them.  Last month I bought some new clothes, among which was another pair of slacks...SIZE 6!  Something is wrong here, people.  It is what I refer to as Vanity Sizing, and it has become rampant in the fashion world.  People, esp. women, who have quite naturally changed sizes as their bodies have changed with age, simply demand that the size number on their clothes not reflect the increase in their bulk.  It seems to me that designers are caving in to something that is absolutely ridiculous!

The actual thought that I could be anywhere close to the size Julia Roberts was in Pretty Woman, absolutely staggers the imagination.  I realize my body image is skewed, but not anywhere near that skewed!  Also, I will grant that Calvins did tend to run small; but even if you consider that 1983 Calvin 12's were the equivalent of everybody else's 1983 size 10, that doesn't account for the new size equivalencies:  Old size 10 is a new size 6???  Come on!!!  No wonder that there are now sizes marketed for women that are listed as a size Zero, or -1, or -2, etc.!

Let me know what you think.  Have we all become more concerned about the number rather than the actual size - are we really that self-delusional?  My suggestion is to be more European in our sizing, and that is to list all sizes as actual measurements - inches or centimeters - and be done with it.  Seems like it would be a lot easier to shop.  I mean before I bought those 6's (which I almost didn't, I was so incredulous), I had to take back several different pairs of slacks by several different designers that were in sizes 12, 10, and 8, because they would not stay on!

Am I overly caught up in this thing, or have we as a nation all become way too conscious about what other people think about how we look, what size we are, etc., and less concerned for our own health, well being, and wearing clothes that actually fit?

So for now, enough is, well, enough...


  1. Excellent post, Paula.

    I've noticed the same thing ~ I cannot shop for clothes by using the size marked on those clothes. It varies too much from manufacturer to manufacturer . . . and the marked size on clothes has definitely changed over time.

    Catering to vanity is a recipe for disaster.

    We are becoming a world populated by delusional people who care more about the perceptions of others than with who they really are.

    In that sense, the focus on weight and size is unhealthy.

    On the other hand, childhood obesity is an epidemic on the rise . . . which in some cases borders on child abuse.

    Americans need to eat less and exercise more if we want to be healthy and happy.

    As long as we’re still growing as a nation, the issue needs to be "shoved in our faces" ~ if for no other reason than to get us to put down our biggie drink and fries. : )

  2. I could not agree with you more - especially regarding childhood obesity, but really any obesity. A lot of it has to do with "the paradox of choice." It seems that the more choices we are given, the less prone we are to either be able to make one, or to make a healthy one! There is a true divide in what is needed nutritionally and what is wanted, and we are a people who seem to indulge ourselves almost constantly in the most unhealthy things - and not just concerning food. I believe that MODERATION is so important when addressing weight, size, and image, etc. We need to stop following advertisers in food and fashion like automatons who are unable to choose anything but what they tell us, in their own interest, to buy. If kids learned early on, that almost all food is OK to eat, but not a lot of any one thing, and not one type of thing all the time, I believe a lot of the problem would be solved - esp. when you add activity, and movement!

    Another big lesson that has been the hardest for me over the years is to eat ONLY when my body is hungry, and not for any other reason, i.e. boredom, depression, habit, etc.

    The only reason, BTW that I object to having the issue shoved in our faces is because it often tends to become counterproductive - people as a rule don't like to be told that they are unacceptable, and generally either sink into depression and give up, or just turn it off! It is a fine line to walk, showing and teaching positive habits, and educating rather than dictating.

    I'm starting to think this subject is rant-worthy! Thanks for your input! :-D

  3. BTW: I went looking for a link in my blog roll to come over here and realized I didn't have one!

    I have remedied that situation. : )