Wednesday, July 05, 2006

big bottom

i am completely furious about an article that ran in the l.a. times calendar section on tuesday. apparently it was independence day for everybody but overweight young women, who were shackled to all the usual size-ist stereotyping, insulting assumptions, and negative-body-image b.s. by robin abcarian, in a front-page piece titled "letting it all hang out," with the subtitle "for many young women, one size fits all -- no matter how that makes them look." the accompanying photo on the front page featured two headless young females, who, i assume based on the times deciding to show only the "relevant" body parts, we are to identify as "sausage casing girls," as abcarian so compassionately refers to them -- young women who are "less-than-svelte" (as she so cleverly describes them) yet wear clothing in too small a size, resulting in such horrifying crimes against humanity as "muffin tops hanging over their hip-skimming jeans."

i am going to pause for a moment before ranting at length to say that i have read abcarian's articles for years. i remember when she had a column in this paper. i have often liked her work. she is a good writer. but this article is foul and demeaning. she tries hard to justify its existence, mixing in quotes from psychologists and an author who suffered from an eating disorder and some (male) mouthpiece from a fancy-jeans company blathering on about how "women" perceive jeans sizing, and even (incredible!) some actual young women. but the truth is, the very idea of this piece seems like something a privileged, nasty sorority girl would come up with for her campus paper: "why do all these gross fat girls have to wear clothes that don't fit them, forcing the rest of us to look at their ugly fat flesh popping out?"

this "phenomenon" is half-heartedly presented as a health concern (as if!), but that's a pathetic smokescreen. the real purpose of this piece -- to mock and shame women who don't meet our culture's standards of perfection yet refuse to hide under tentlike clothing in order to make judgmental idiots more comfortable -- is telegraphed early on, when abcarian asserts that "chunky teen boys and young men hide in cartoonishly large basketball jerseys over big t-shirts and elephant-legged shorts" but "girls generally do not." the message is clear: covering up your fat is good; "letting it all hang out" is bad. and if fat girls would cover up (like the boys do), then there'd be no problem.

according to this article, it is ok to be happy with one's bigness -- in fact, abcarian is even "tempted to applaud the sausage casing girls" for flying in the face of popular body image and wearing what they want to wear -- but it is not ok to display your fat to the public. b/c that's just ... ewwww. she illustrates the point: a teen interviewed who likes to wear "tight" clothes and wants to lose a few pounds but insists on buying stuff in her real size is not disgusting, b/c, "as a result, she has no fat rolls squeezing up into a muffin top above her belt. her t-shirts do not climb, leaving a bare expanse of skin showing around her middle." well, thank GOD she's not out there frightening the children with her unspeakable lard belly.

furthermore, abcarian may be "tempted" to applaud the SCG, but she's not gonna. she makes out this alleged tendency to wear too-tight clothing as some manifestation of self-esteem gone awry. they "think" they look cute, she asserts, but they don't. she goes so far as to opine that "many" of them aren't happy or confident in themselves at all, but simply deluding themselves about what size they are, buying too-tight clothes instead of the size they should wear so they don't have to face the dreaded fact that they are "big." ok, that's entirely possible. but it's hardly news. i mean, isn't clothing-size anxiety a fucking daily theme of the loathsome comic strip "cathy"?

notice how, in the above quoted section, suddenly the problem morphs into "a bare expanse of skin showing," rather than what the writer really means, which is an exposed roll of fat. way to play the euphemism card. plenty of women, young and otherwise, wear midriff-baring tops. it's only a manifestation of a possible mental disorder, however, when sausage casing girls do it.

among the many outrages of this article is the utter failure of the accompanying photography to prove abcarian's thesis. in fact, if i were very literal-minded, i would argue that the photography flies in the face of her point, as she does play on the razor-thin distinction between "tight" and "too tight." i am sure she's relying on what she has seen out in the world -- that always reliable sample of one. well, y'know what? i've sure seen some girls/women walking around in too-tight clothing. but not so many as to believe there is an epidemic. so i don't buy it. and why should i let this article convince me? the two photos accompanying the piece (at least the one on the jump inside shows a woman with her head attached) do not show young women wearing too-tight clothing. each one's attire completely covers her potentially offending stomach, and the one on the inside isn't even wearing a tank top that's terribly tight. no visible, naked, icky fat rolls anywhere.

oh, it's not as though robin didn't do her research. she went to the mall one saturday and scoped out the fat chicks. quickly it dawned on her that "the whole issue of overweight and appropriate fit is ticklish." y'don't say? i can just imagine the scenario: "hi, i'm robin abcarian from the los angeles times. i'm writing an article about sausage casing girls -- you know, fat young women like you who wear too-tight clothing? can i just ask you a few questions about why you insist on making the rest of us uncomfortable by pretending you're not uncomfortable, not to mention denying that you need to be wearing a tent instead of a tank top?" needless to say, it was "difficult to engage a conversation" with these real, live SCGs: "no young woman wanted to admit -- to a reporter, anyway -- that she was chubby and her clothes simply didn't fit."

here's a news flash for you, robin: lots of women, even (gasp!) thin ones, wear clothes that are too tight. how come it's only a social problem when women over size 8 do it? or is it really any more "attractive" to look at, say, some rail-thin 50-year-old wearing a tight tank top that exposes the fleshy wattles around her armpits? if you truly wanted to discuss the "phenomenon" of women feeling so culturally oppressed that they can't even own up to the actual size of clothing they wear, or that they feel so anxious/unhappy about the size they wear, or whatever, there were far kinder and less prejudiced ways to do it. b/c if these girls don't have a problem with what they are wearing, why the FUCK should anybody else care? (and if they do, well, that's their problem.)

aside from the phrase "sausage casing girls" (i mean, c'mon: can you see the times allowing some writer to call a group of devout muslim women in traditional religious garb "the burqa chicks" or black women with natural hair the "nappy headed girls"?), the most unforgiveable thing about this article is that it was written by a woman, treating other women like objects and even going so far as to humiliate one by proxy in order to get that all-important quote from the fat girl who wears too-tight clothing. if only robin had managed to interview the poor teen girl, who is traumatized to the point of still being upset days after being asked to explain herself, well, then we'd have the definitive answer to this perplexing and disturbing mystery. as if.

No comments: