Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Everyone's a Little Bit--

Avenue QIn the musical puppet show Avenue Q, there's a hilarious number called "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist," wherein each member of the show's ethnically diverse mix of puppets admits to unconscious stereotyping. In its gentle, up-tempo way, it's one of the most effective rebukes of political correctness I've ever heard:

Everyone's a little bit racist, sometimes
Doesn't mean we go around committing hate crimes!
Look around and you will find,
That no one's really color-blind,
Guess it's really something we should face!
Everyone makes judgements based on race.

It loses something without puppets' delivery, and the bouncy, Sesame-Street style score, but you get the idea.

I was reminded of this little number during a conversation I had last night with a friend I'll call Kathleen -- that's not her actual name -- the relevent points about whom are that she's a woman and that she's heavy. She told me she had watched the Joy Nash "Fat Rant" video, which I blogged about last week, and that she'd had a very ambivalent reaction to it. Instead of wanting to stand up and cheer, a reaction that the video provoked in many other similarly plus-size women (according to Big Fat Deal), Kathleen echoed some of Nash's most vociforous detractors: that Nash shouldn't feel good about herself; that she was kidding herself; that she was clearly unhealthy, should lose weight, and --implicitly -- that she should shut up. Discussing it with another heavy friend, whose response to the Nash clip had been "I wish I had her confidence," Kathleen had said, "I wish I believed her."

Kathleen parallelled her experience to a response she'd had to recent trends she'd noticed in dance. Lately, she said, the standards for female dancers' bodies have easing, and so one sees heavier women performing in prestigious venues where you wouldn't have seen them a few years ago. And again, instead of finding comfort, or empowerment in that development -- which is the response I would expect her to have, being a relatively enlightened, and let's not forget, plus-sized person herself -- she admitted that she didn't like seeing the heavier dancers. She even expressed something like disgust at seeing them.

It was a starling reaction, and a brave admission.

doveI recalled to her the print ad campaign that Dove soap launched last year, in which women of varying ages with average physiques posed proudly in bikinis: in groups, alone, in pairs, often hugging or draped around one another. I admitted that I hadn't found the pictures particularly beautiful; that my response had been, "Well, good for Dove, but I'm not really interested in looking at those women." They looked like they were playing minimalist dress-up games, and clinging together for some combination of concealment and dear life. And in spite of their plaster grins, I wondered whether those women really wanted to be hanging it all out there on Sunset Boulevard, either. My frequent encounters with these billboards, which were ubiquitous in LA at the time, felt like a poorly-conceived, never-ending blind date which neither of us wanted to be on.

"Look at us!" the Dove suits proclaimed through their self-satisfied images, "We don't use skinny, unhealthy models whose images promote anorexia and low self-esteem in young girls, and hey, aren't we making you appreciate the beauty in averageness?" Their cause was noble, but their methods were facile and smug and mildly embarassing after awhile I just wanted those pictures to go away.

I have no answers here, just an addendum to the Avenue Q characters' assertion, that not only is everyone a little bit racist, but that everyone -- even an educated, articulate, plus-sized woman and a guy who makes a good part of his living trying to help women lose weight -- is a little bit weightist as well.


Anonymous said...

The self-loathing of this girl is incredibly palpable. I almost want to scream at her, slap her around, and tell her to stop being a g.d. victim to society's and her own upbringing otherwise she's doomed to being heavy... and hating herself... her whole life.

But you told her that awareness of her own "weightism" was the first step towards working towards her own growth, and her first STEP towards self-acceptance, no matter what.

And I thank you for that, Andrew.


Sonya said...

I think that there's a big difference between Joy Nash's video and the women in the Dove ads - her personality. I strongly suspect that if Nash was one of those women she would have gotten a big *eh* too. And that's OK. And it might also be true the other way - if you saw 2 minutes of one of the Dove women talking and expressing herself, you might find her to be more attractive as well.

Goodness knows there are plenty of people who are quite thin and attractive on first impression or in pictures but who make me want to run away screaming when they open their mouths.

The point is that Nash's personality shines through and that makes her sexy and attractive beyond the pretty face.

I don't think that it's "weightist" to cop to not finding the Dove women attractive, or even wishing that a stupid advertising campaign would go away. You like what you like. Nothing wrong with that.

The weightism comes in when people reject the Dove women (or any woman) as gross and worthless based entirely on the size of her thighs.

Having said that, I am seriously overweight but I am constantly fighting my own feelings on the subject too.

Personally, I am at a weird place where I am not confident and do not feel attractive, but I also don't have any qualms about swimming in a public pool, because I'm not dumb enough to believe that anybody who knows me might actually think that under the size 22 clothes I'm a size 6. But I still get stuck in these internal feedback loops when I look at other obese women and compare myself - "thank gawd I'm not thaaaat big" or "how did she let it go that far?" So I understand exactly where Kathleen is coming from too.

It's a tough subject all the way around.


Andrew said...

Good points, Sony--thanks for posting. Tough subject indeed, and certainly lots more to say. I haven't looked into online responses to those Dove ads, but I suspect they were at least as divided as peoples' feelings about the Fat Rant. --Andrew

mamacita chilena said...

The two subjects are touchy. Unfortunately I have been on both sides of the fence for both. As a once "fat" girl now "slimmed down" I have experienced discrimination against me when I was heavier, and experienced people treating me much better when I was thinner, who probably wouldn't have given me the time of day before. I liked the Joy Nash rant, because what I heard was a women standing up for big girls' rights to be treated like normal people. She's addressing the fact that in this day and age she is "normal." And in a world where Nicole Richie and her razor sharp collar bones are a standard of beauty that many women wish they could achieve, I think its healthy for our body images to see the other side of the spectrum and realize that that too can be sexy. Now, I think Joy Nash would have a better quality of life if she wanted to shed her extra weight through diet and fitness and probably live a few years longer. But, I don't think that's up to society to decide FOR her, and that's what has bugged me about a lot of people's reactions to the video. I've seen a lot of replies saying, "Oh, she's a pretty girl, but she needs to lose weight." That's an incorrect statement, she "needs" to lose weight when/if she decides she's ready. If she is satisfied with her life as is (including accepting all health related problems that may come with being overweight), then there is no "need." I did not see her evident self loathing as the first commenter on this blog did. She seemed big, happy, and confident to me, and I don't think that was a farse. Why? Because I've been in her shoes, and I felt pretty much the way she did...I wanted society to get off my back and let me be happy to be fat if that was who I wanted to be! And for a long time it was, until I decided I wanted to become a runner :) Just my two (or ten) cents on the subject. Also, Andrew, its been very interesting to hear a man's opinion on this subject because so far all I've seen are primarily responses from women.

As far as racism goes, I also agree that everyone carries a lot of stereotypes with them, its just not pc to voice them out loud. To me that's a big part of what's wrong with the US today, is pretending that we have conquered racism when its so clearly an underlying problem in our society. Just take the Don Imus rant a few months ago, that's a perfect example.

I never knew how harmful stupid racial stereotypes could be until I moved to Chile and was on the receiving end. People assume so many things about you if you're from the US-that we're all rich and live like those kids on The OC, that family's here are not close, don't love each other, that we are all imperialists who voted for Bush, etc. Its gets tiring having to constantly defend myself.

PHEW, long comment!

Anonymous said...

Mamacita, that "self-loathing" comment was about the woman Andrew spoke with that night -- ME -- not Joy Nash.

Joy's self-confidence should've been inspiring to me... but it wasn't.

One step at a time...