“Most women strive to be skinny and have good-sized body features.”

Even at this incredibly hectic time of the semester (I am carrying on a part-time basis what constitutes more than a full-time teaching load, including 4 sections of Freshman Comp!) I must pause for this gem.

My student was writing about the obesity “epidemic” in the U.S. and especially about an essay by Susie Orbach, “Fat Is a Feminist Issue.” He agreed that “most women” feel the pressure to conform to images promulgated in the media. And that’s what he means in this sentence.

I like the idea of striving to “be skinny.” I imagine said striving includes, as far as my student can imagine, diets, exercise, efforts even to the point of eating disorders. Having striven against the inexorable march of adipose tissue most of my life, I am comfortable with the verb “strive” meaning “expend considerable effort in attempting.” I’m not so sure, though, that women think of “skinny” as the ideal. “Slim,” yes; “slender,” “willowy,” perhaps even “ethereal.” But “skinny” is a pejorative term and always has been, I believe. “Skinny” evokes knobby knees, visible tendons, sunken chests, big teeth. Even those who want to wear “skinny jeans” think of themselves as “slim.”

What delights me about this sentence, though, is those “good-sized body features.” Exactly what would that refer to? “Good-sized” in other contexts usually means “big” or “substantial,” doesn’t it? A good-sized meal isn’t a size that’s good for you; it’s a slab of steak, a heap of spaghetti, and a hefty wedge of pie. A good-sized swimming pool takes up half the yard. A good-sized raise increases your income by a nice chunk of change and then some.

So these women are hoping for BIG “body features.” Fingers? Elbows? Hair? Nose? Or is my student imagining the pin-up girls of the ’40s and ’50s, with their generous hips and big busts—the 36-24-36 “stacked” women that boys in my generation sighed for?

Are we talking Barbie here—skinny except for enormous breasts?

Well, the Barbie “ideal” has been blamed for a certain amount of body-image trouble in adolescent girls (read Marge Piercy’s breath-taking “Barbie Doll” for this insight brilliantly expressed), so maybe we are talking Barbie. And when my student’s sister unwrapped her Barbie one Christmas years ago, did he peek into the box and exclaim “What good-sized body features!”?

Ladies and gentlemen, the recruitment line for feminists forms on the left.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

6 responses to ““Most women strive to be skinny and have good-sized body features.”

  • yourothermotherhere

    I long for the day we just let people be people.

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    Remember the couple in “Annie Hall,” both of them gorgeous, walking in the sunlight of Washington Square South, and Woody Allen stops them and says, “Pardon me, but you look so happy together. How do you do it?” And they say, “Oh, we’re both very superficial, so we’re perfectly happy with each other.” And he says, in a heartfelt way, having been given the secret of happiness, “Thank you.”

    I don’t think it’s really a question of aesthetics at all. I think it’s the issue of superficiality, getting the world to see us as cool and ratify us because we haven’t bothered to fill up the inside part that can ratify ourselves.

    • RAB

      You are a philosophical woman, Mary Jane! I’ve always thought this obsession with looks was part of the way girls used to be raised, apologetic for intruding on the universe…and so unsure of being worthy to be anywhere except on the universe’s (perceived) terms… Probably superficiality and this kind of insecurity go hand in hand–no inner achievements, no inner confidence?

  • Robin Lawrimore

    There is balance between being a good steward of this “house” we live in, and trying to make it conform to culture’s and media’s demands that are totally unreasonable. I happen to like my “Renaissance” figure and consider it normal. Thank you for your post!

  • yearstricken

    All my good-sized body features are in the wrong places. Or maybe I’m just in the wrong era or culture.

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