The Real Skinny on Why We Feel Fat
Meghan Cox Gurdon says it’s not the models who make us feel fat. It’s the clothes.
Modern womanhood is caught in a trap of its own making; we are hoist by our own petard. It is female emancipation that has put us on diets and treadmills. Before you throw this magazine down in disgust, consider that the more economic and political power women have acquired, the fewer clothes we have worn; the fewer clothes, the less friendly concealment. That is why our bodies, themselves, have come to be of such supreme-and exasperating-importance.
Say what you will about corsets, they at least gave every woman a waist and made a pleasing contrast with zaftig hips. In olden days, the contours of one’s calves, let alone one’s thighs, mattered not at all, for they were veiled in sumptuous layers of skirting. Rich or poor, chunky or sylphlike, all women used to wear garb which conveyed femininity whilst concealing womanhood’s more problematic hip-thigh-buttock zone. Not only were women’s pillowy backsides hidden from male eyes, they were also hidden from those of their owners. And if you can’t see your thighs, why would you worry about them? My guess is that most women of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries passed their whole lives without once scrutinizing their cellulite. (Our great-grand-mothers didn’t even have a name for it; according to Webster’s, “cellulite” only entered the language in 1974.). . .
Today women make more money, and are courted more assiduously than ever in history by politicians (though less assiduously by men). Women govern, run companies, adjudicate lawsuits, and, in Britain, operate their own special taxpayer-funded unit. So why is it that from dressing rooms across the English-speaking world comes the querulous cry: “Do these pants make me look fat?”
You’re On Your Own, Baby
Midge Decter argues that the woman problem arises not from lack of freedom but because of it.
No one, I repeat, has ever led a life with so many private options in it as the modern enlightened woman. It is not surprising that she is often confused and restless and vulnerable to a lot of abstract notions about what she should be doing. It is not surprising that the family appears, for the moment, to be a highly unstable institution. The family will not in the end, I think, remain unstable for long. The nuclear family is the most useful invention of the human spirit, a means by which men and women and their children can negotiate a tolerable settlement of their respective, very different needs.
But how are we to get along in the meantime? We need desperately to understand what is truly going on with us and to be as honest about it as possible. A proper feminism would result in a movement that spoke to women not about their grievances but about their new condition of freedom. It would be saying to them not, “You are entitled to complain” but rather, “Your difficulty is also your opportunity. Be of high heart. You are going to make it.”
False Courage Awards
TWQ has always hated hypocrisy-we’re also amused by it. Here is a selection from our False Courage Awards.
Just a “Housewife” Award
Proving that an ordinary soccer mom can take on the all-powerful gun lobby, Donna Dees-Thomases, a self-described housewife, became the driving force behind last spring’s Million Mom March, an antigun protest in Washington. Bobbsey Twins Hillary and Tipper attended. The courageous New Jersey mom frankly admits that she has “never been politically active”-although, presumably, she has shaken the hands of a few bigwigs through sister-in-law and Hillary confidante Susan Thomases, and in her own capacity as spokesman for the Late Show with David Letterman, and before that, assistant press secretary to two Democratic senators.
Courage under Fire Award
Guns seem to bring out the courage in all sorts of moms. Another participant in the Million Mom March was rotund talk show hostess Rosie O’Donnell. Previously, she had ambushed NRA poster boy Tom Selleck when he appeared on her show. When it was subsequently learned that Rosie’s own bodyguard had applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon, Rosie explained-between mouthfuls of Drakes Cakes-that she did not “personally” own a gun. Her spokesman helpfully added that the gun was for protection, not homicide.
The Susan Sarandon Golden Hacksaw Award
Stanley “Tookie” Williams says his life has “changed totally” since he entered San Quentin. A founder of Los Angeles’ notorious Crips gang, Tookie joined with journalist Barbara Becnel to produce several books designed to teach kids about the evils of gangs. Tookie’s newest book, Life in Prison, has received kudos from the American Library Association. When Tookie, who has entertained Winnie Mandela and other celebrity admirers, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Becnel described her protege as “wide-eyed like a child and really excited.” Unable to see how much Tookie has “grown,” prosecutors snipe that articles about him often fail to mention that he murdered four people, allegedly schemed to kill a prison guard, and appears to be in firm control of the Blue Note Crips, the L.A. gang’s San Quentin arm.
Oh, Grow Up
Mona Charen argues that, if children are to succeed, adults must be adults.
Our culture has long since learned what chaos ensues when adults cease to believe that they have the right to impose upon children. The kids go wild. After each school shooting, there is predictable hand-wringing about inadequate supervision of kids; but it isn’t at all clear that adults still understand what they are supposed to permit and forbid.
Conservatives tend to blame teachers and the education blob for many of our ills, and the criticisms are justified. But we too often skate past the parental abdication that is everywhere apparent. Talk to teachers and you will discover that many parents decline to show up for conferences, decline to support schools when their children are disciplined (often they are more inclined to sue), and fail to instill in their kids the automatic respect for adult authority that is essential to a smoothly running school.
While many parents still resist even mild measures like banning rude messages on t-shirts, a backlash is just barely discernible. Many public and private schools are returning to school uniforms. But there is plenty more this side of paddling and the dunce cap that schools can do….
Call it the “broken window theory” of education. Just as New York City found that cracking down on small crimes helped dispel the climate of fear in the city and even reduced more serious offenses, so cracking down on slovenly dress and behavior can improve the learning environment in schools.
The Big Girl Game
Claudia Winkler says there is nothing like a sister.
Stef, or Steffy as she then was, is the oldest of four sisters and sixteen months my senior, so just that little bit ahead in worldliness when we were growing up. Her chronological edge combined with a native assertiveness and creativity to make her the leader of our games. Yet she was never bossy or unkind (leaving aside the time she threw my sewing basket out of our second-story bedroom window, an uncharacteristically vengeful bit of histrionics). Most often, she was simply part of me. . . .
When Stef told me a while back that she had hated The Stone Diaries so much she had literally flung the book across the room, my heart rejoiced. I’ve never read The Stone Diaries and don’t intend to. I’m serenely confident that if I did, I would dislike it too, and in just the same way she did. I trust her judgment as unreservedly as I relish its signature vehemence of expression. The other side of the coin is that our rare disagreements-Mrs. Clinton’s first inaugural gown remains a sore point-are always disconcerting.
So it’s only fitting that in the midst of an early clash in what would become his splendid marriage to Stef, my brother-in-law David, fending off her impossible expectations of female-style communication, memorably blurted out in self-defense, “Stef, you didn’t marry one of your sisters!”
Sydney Biddle Barrows reveals what would have really shocked her mother.
I may have been accused of many things (and I have), but I have never been accused of having bad table manners. That is something my mother would really have had a hard time dealing with. Even when I am alone, eating from a tiny tray in my den, I still put my (cloth) napkin on my lap, place the salad on the left, and cut my green beans into bite-sized pieces. . . .
So why are table manners important and why is it so important to instill good ones in our children? “Perfect table manners are one of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave me,” says Melinda. “I can go anywhere and never have to worry whether or not I’m doing things properly.” Every one of the women I spoke to said that knowing what to do gives them a tremendous sense of self-confidence during times when making a good impression is extremely important. Interviewing for a big job, meeting the parents of a new beau, that business dinner on which a major deal hinges, lunch with the president of the co-op board-proper table manners send the message that you are, or deserve to be, part of the club, the team, the group. My mother, whom, of course, I consulted for this article, sent me the following note: “The most important thing about impeccable table manners is that they are not intended as an empty show or facade, but as a genuine expression of one’s consideration and respect for one’s dining companions.”
Karlyn Bowman’s Poll-Pourri, a regular feature of TWQ, made polling data into must-read items.
We Are What We Wear
Forget the above-the-elbow kid gloves: We’ve become a nation that dresses down. According to Roper Starch Worldwide, 82 percent of women have a pair of jeans in their wardrobe, and 61 percent wear them regularly. About the same number have a daytime dress (85 percent), but only 36 wear one regularly. Eighty-four percent of women have running shoes and a solid majority (55 percent) wear them regularly. Far fewer, 61 percent, have a pair of high heels, but only 16 percent wear them regularly. Forty-five percent of women have a floor length dress or skirt for evening wear, but only 5 percent say they wear it regularly. And what do women think they look best in? A blouse or shirt, followed by a daytime dress, and blue jeans.
When it comes to going casual, men have followed suit. T-shirts are the most common article of clothing in men’s wardrobes (93 percent have them), followed closely by blue jeans (90 percent). Three-quarters have a button-down shirt, two-thirds a sport coat or blazer. Slightly more than half (56 percent) own a business suit, but only 12 percent wear it regularly. Only 16 percent own a tux. What do men say they look best in? Four in ten, the top response, say jeans.
I’m Not Dead Yet!
Danielle Crittenden on our eagerness to dispatch the sick and dying
When my father ended up in intensive care one day, and all that lay between him and death were some numbers on a computer screen and the mechanical inhaling of a respirator, the doctors suggested we sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” order. That way, when one of his organs failed or an infection set in, his wasted body would at last be able to pass quickly into the night.
There was just one snag. My father, despite all the cords and monitors and IV bags dangling around him, was still very much conscious. And he indicated that he had a strong desire to live. . . .
He could communicate with us only by pointing to the letters of an alphabet written on a piece of cardboard. Of course it was very difficult to carry on a conversation with someone on an oxygen tube. I offered: “Well, Dad, when you get out of here, you’re going to need a haircut.” His hand began to tremble, indicating the alphabet, and very laboriously he spelled out, “Which one?”
The jokes were fewer in his last visit, but they were still there. . . .
He lay there and imagined wonderful stories. When he was, as the doctor promised, out of intensive care and recovered enough to send home, he resumed smoking his beloved cigarettes and eating Kahlua-soaked dishes of ice cream. I sent him a basket of flowers- unusually vibrant lilies that he had placed atop the TV where he could gaze at them. He followed the fiasco of last summer’s baseball season. Early one evening my sister-in-law accompanied him through the park: again and again he exclaimed about the lushness of the leaves and grass, the tranquil beauty of the dusk.
My father demonstrated that, even when the body is circumscribed, the mind can still be a vast and luxurious place. What observer, no matter how sound his medical training, can judge what “quality of life” goes on inside it? To my father, the sight of the lilies and twilight, the pleasure he took in his memories and thoughts, were infinitely preferable to the alternative, the nothingness of death. To him what was important was the “quantity of life.” He clung to every shred granted him.
Jonathan Foreman warns that a second cat will condemn you to spinsterhood.
One might hope that cat owners would gradually become as seductively flirtatious as their feline companions. But for some reason, multiple-cat owners only absorb the less attractive cat-like traits. They become willful, selfish, vengeful, and cruel. They alternate between gross laziness and frantic activity, lying awake at night and dozing during the day. . . .
They also become excessively territorial. Any man who might be considering staying for the night soon picks up the vibration from both cats and mistress that there is no room for him. And if cats see their mistress cuddling up to a stranger, they will immediately stage a diversion, either by interposing their own bodies between the smooching couple, or by “accidentally” knocking things off shelves.
Most people assume that lonely, difficult spinsters live with four or five cats because they are alone. They fail to realize that the causal relationship goes the other way. These women are alone, difficult, etc., because they live with four or five cats. u
The Oy! of Sex
Cynthia Grenier yearns for a bit of prudery in women’s magazines.
Henry James, let alone, William Dean Howells, would be stunned by what is considered acceptable fare for young women these days. . . .
Harper’s Bazaar, hitherto a relatively decorous periodical, recently made the ultimate feminist statement with its full-page, full-color illustration of a woman warrior. Masses of dark curly hair, battle-ax slung over one muscled shoulder, swollen breasts barely covered by a scrap of red stretch material, and dangling from her left hand a large pair of hairy human testicles.
A little Jamesian reticence would surely be welcome about now. u