The Body-Image Essay to End All Body-Image Essays

        November 2006

I. The Reals vs. the Ideals

Every so often, in the course of rhetorical posturing, a particular word will get abused so egregiously that it becomes necessary to call special attention to the abuse, in an attempt to rein all the meta-definition back into a zone where the word has a ghost of a chance of meaning anything at all.  Lately, one of the words most frequently abused in this fashion is “real,” and even the casual pop-culture analyst will be acquainted with myriad examples: racists refer to themselves as real Americans, as if they too aren’t the descendants of immigrants; TV producers hype their reality shows as if they weren’t equally as vapid as the most contrived of sitcoms; and as for the expression “keeping it real,” I refer you to Chris Rock’s brilliant deconstruction of the phrase in his classic Bring the Pain special.

In all three cases, the word is being employed for the same purpose:  the person using (or misusing) it needs to feel superior to someone or something he or she fears is actually superior to (or at least, no worse than) they are, and so convinces him or herself that something about this other person or thing is fake.  Laying claim to reality is often an attempt at legitimating jealousy or fear.

Fine, most people don’t know any better than to grasp frantically at whatever half-baked rhetorical stances will make them feel better about themselves, and theirs are cases for pity as much as for admonishment; it’s when those people who should be the rhetorical leaders of society — intellectuals and academics (politicians are more a society’s rhetorical buffoons, cornered by the democratic process into the inability to ever say anything that doesn’t make the majority feel better) — start reasoning just as poorly that we need to worry.  And with one debate in particular, The 1585 is already beyond worry — in fact, if I hear one more armchair feminist attack “the media” in defense of “real women,” I’m going to lose it completely.

Old Testament God     Bela Lugosi as Dracula      Kate Moss topless in Calvin Klein jeans ad
One of the above is real.
(Hint: most Americans will get this wrong)

I assume that an abstract of these positions is largely unnecessary, since everyone in America has heard the arguments a thousand times by now:  models and actresses are too thin, and represent an unrealistic standard of attractiveness, because most women don’t look like that, and as a result, normal women are developing eating disorders and suffering from low-self-esteem.

Granted, there was a kernel of validity to these arguments when they first became popular: they began as a reaction to the “heroin chic” fad of the early ’90s, and indeed many of the more prominent models at that time were “dangerously underweight,” as the expression goes (of course, most men didn’t find this all that attractive, even at the time, and so blaming the problem entirely on men was and is an oversimplification — but more on this later).  But even after heroin chic faded, the arguments stayed, and fifteen years later the too-thin argument is being leveled at women who are thin at all, celebrity and non-celebrity alike.

As most arguments do once they have escaped the pages of the theorists who first developed them and been boiled down for easy popular consumption, the body-image arguments have become so sloppy and self-contradictory as to be nearly meaningless.  Rhetoric about who is or is not a “real woman,” or who is or is not suffering from or contributing to “bad body-image,” can now be leveled against virtually any woman by virtually any other woman who doesn’t like her for virtually any reason.  It is as versatile as the word stupidhead is to a five-year-old, or as the word smurf is to a Smurf.  This essay will attempt to highlight some of the problems plaguing this controversy — if not necessarily to resolve them.

Please don’t misunderstand the intent here:  this is not an anti-feminist article, and The 1585 is not in any way anti-feminist.  In fact, the inspiration for this piece was partly to defend some of the women closest to me — be they girlfriends, sisters, or any of the other women I know who are both thin and “real women” nonetheless.

At this point, many readers have probably already launched into the response that such a statement usually elicits:  “Oh, boo hoo; the poor thin women — what defense do they need? What problems could they possibly have?”  Well, attitudes like that, for a start.  It’s that stance — and some people’s belief that they are combating sexism by adopting it — that led to incidents like the time my sister asked me whether the fact that she doesn’t hate models really meant she was a bad woman; or the time I introduced a girlfriend to a group of women who all proceeded to look her up and down, roll their eyes, and turn their backs on her without a word or a handshake; or the time that a thin female friend was fired from her job because of her “attitude,” when the only person who thought she had an attitude was her fat supervisor.  

Some feminists.  Way to reach out to your sisters.

If you're someone who reasons this way, I hope you win the lottery someday — at which point I will walk up to you and punch you in the throat, and then after you object, say “Oh, boo hoo; the poor lottery winner!  What problems could a lottery winner possibly have?”  Hey, the fact that you were supremely lucky in one respect means you couldn’t possibly have any real problems and that you have no right to complain even when people are mean to you for no reason, right?

I realize that men are free to hate other men, and so women should also be free to hate other women — my objection is only to the fact that women hating other women is accepted as feminism, since that name implies that all women are represented.  When a man hates another man, he does not say that he hates him on behalf of men, because this would make no sense.

Now, it should already be clear from the other pieces on the site that The 1585 doesn’t think everyone has to be nice to everyone else twenty-four hours a day — sometimes, somebody pisses you off, and it’s not always for the most noble of reasons.  If you want to be mean to people you’re jealous of, I guess I can’t stop you — but just don’t try to call it feminism.  And don’t try to hit me with the argument that you’re simply striking back against the women who make life harder for the rest by starving themselves in acquiescence to the unreasonable demands of the patriarchy.  The fact is, not every thin woman has an eating disorder — some women are just thin.

Are they lucky, and does it suck when other people are luckier than you?  Sure.  But it’s no different from someone being naturally smarter than you, or naturally better at sports, or having more artistic talent, and so on.  The phenomenon of a majority’s attempting out of jealousy to turn a minority’s advantage into a disadvantage by employing questionable rhetoric isn’t new, or unique to the body-image debate — anyone who went to high school knows that this is how we got the word nerd — but the body-image debate is the only one where the practice has been countenanced by the intelligentsia.  And since most of those people are probably used to being called nerds, they should know better than to turn around and run the same game on someone else.

There’s a term for rhetoric of this stripe, and if it’s not the only one, it’s probably the most succinct and expressive:  playa-hatin’.

I once knew an extremely attractive and fiercely intelligent young woman who had experienced plenty of “real” problems because of the fact that she was attractive — like being sexually assaulted, for one.  But then when she tried to become involved with the feminist organizations on campus during her college years, all the rhetoric was about how attractive women were the new enemy, and so she felt out-of-place there too.  After all, how could a former Homecoming Queen possibly have had a hard life?  Forget about all the disrespect she had endured from men because of her good looks, because her good looks were making life harder for other women.

Another attractive female friend feels like she can’t even go outside in a skirt anymore, because people yell stuff at her on the street — and those people aren’t men; they’re other women

Feminism was supposed to be about making it so that women didn’t have to put up with men’s crap anymore — and aren’t attractive women the ones who have always had to put up with the most of it?  It seems like many people who identify themselves as feminists nowadays are less concerned with social equality for all women in non-sexual arenas of society than they are with giving unattractive women more advantages when it comes to competing for men — but wasn’t the idea that competing for men shouldn’t be the most important thing in the world, and that women shouldn’t let it come between them, supposed to be one of the indispensable central tenets of feminism?  I realize nobody asked me, but in my opinion, if you spend more time thinking about how to help fat girls get a date than you do thinking about sexual assault or reproductive rights or the underrepresentation of women in the sciences, you may want to reexamine what you think feminism means.

II. J’accuse!

As for exactly who does or does not actually have an eating disorder, I guess there’s no foolproof way to tell unless that person tells you herself, but this essay isn’t about who does or doesn’t have one — it’s about how people talk about who does or doesn’t have one, and here’s what I’ve noticed about that:  when a woman actually does clearly have an eating disorder, other women don’t talk shit about her —they feel bad for her, and try to help her, and blame men for her condition rather than the woman herself (this too is questionable, but women vs. men isn’t the topic here, women vs. other women is).  So then, when certain women lambaste one of their own for her alleged “eating disorder,” it must be the case that they don’t actually think she has one — the eating-disorder accusation, with the sense that having an eating disorder is a crime against feminism is, paradoxically, reserved for those women who can be thin without resorting to such methods.

It’s just like when high-school bullies accuse the smart kid of having cheated on a test — they are saying so because they know he didn’t need to; if he had actually cheated, then he would be one of them, and there would be no animosity to air.

With these illustrations, we come closer to the crux of the matter:  simply put, the fact that life is not fair.  But unlike when the Conservatives use it, this phrase does not appear here in order to justify unnecessary cruelty, or to silence people who have legitimate complaints.  It appears here more as a defense than as a rationale for attack — it appears in the service of pointing out that people who are born with advantages that others do not have are not necessarily bad people; they are only lucky people, and that’s not the same thing.  It is not necessarily the case that we should “do something about” these inequalities, even if we could (which, in case you care, we can’t).  At this point in the body wars, the offenses committed by the “Reals,” which they perceive as defenses, are far crueler than anything perpetrated by the “Ideals,” whose only attack was being born.

I’m certainly not saying that no attractive people are mean.  But in the cases of mean attractive people, is their meanness really a quality of their attractiveness?  No.  Meanness is never the property of an advantage and always the property of a disadvantage.  Perhaps the mean attractive people you’ve known in your life were also dumb, and are mean because they’re insecure about being dumb — just like many of the intelligent people who write mean articles about attractive people are insecure about being unattractive.  (NOTE:  People who are both smart and attractive are almost always really nice.  Think about your own experiences for a minute, and you'll realize this is true.)

Deep down, of course, most people really do understand the fact that someone who is simply luckier than you is not actually doing something to hurt you; so, in order to rationalize simple hatred of the lucky into seeming like something noble, an argument needed to be constructed that would make it seem as if good-looking people actually were hurting others — and this explains the popularity of the “good-looking people cause eating disorders” rhetoric.  If an attractive woman gets more attention than you do, she can’t very well be blamed for that — but if she purposely gives herself a disease and then you “catch” the disease too, then she can be blamed.

Of course, this argument only makes unattractive people feel better if it’s the case that all good-looking people “cheat” to achieve their results — and so this is exactly what society allows itself to believe.  A helpful analogy might be to the steroid epidemic in sports:  an athlete who uses steroids is indeed a “bad role model,” but if young players take steroids in order to try and replicate the feats of an athlete who is naturally that good, then it’s their own fault.

Yes, there are dangerous methods of becoming attractive, and sadly it is also the case that some people might never become attractive without employing them — but the fact remains that a woman who ruins her health with anorexia or bulimia doesn’t prove that regular old diet and exercise is bad any more than a man who ruins his health with steroids proves that regular old weightlifting is bad.  Sure, one thing can be seen as an extreme version of the other, but human wellness is densely populated with such fine lines — too much sun exposure causes skin cancer, while too little leads to vitamin-D deficiency; too much alcohol destroys your liver, but a bit of red wine now and then is better for your heart than not drinking at all.  Bringing mental health into the picture, we could compare the many people who ruined their lives with drugs to the many artists who produced immortal works of genius by using them wisely (in addition to working hard and being naturally gifted, of course).

Barry Bonds on steroids
Proof that no-one should bother exercising?

The Rousseauist Left rejects the idea that life is a competition instead of a cooperation — when in reality, it is both.  The body-image debate is not actually about health so much as it is a spurning of the idea that human sexuality involves competition, and all the cruelty that comes with it.  If I seem unnecessarily cruel in this essay, it is only because I dislike hypocrisy: the “Reals,” after all, are not seeking to eliminate competition from human sexuality entirely — they are only seeking to shift the competition away from an arena where they are disadvantaged.  If sexual desirability were based on intelligence rather than on physical attributes, wouldn’t that be just as much a competition?  And wouldn’t some people still have “unfair” natural advantages over others?  Or, to keep things in terms of the physical:  imagine if someone could wave a magic wand and make it so that the fatter you are, the more attractive you are — that would mean that 700lb. women would be the supermodels, and is that any higher a percentage of the total?  No matter what body type is considered the most attractive, it’s going to be a small percentage, because there are lots of different body types.  

And even if there were one body type that 90% of women had (which is impossible, because new aesthetic distinctions would be made in order to divide this block into subcategories), and that type were considered the most attractive, wouldn’t that be even worse?  Imagine how bad that other 10% would feel!  At least, under the current system, non-supermodels have a lot of company.

Since everyone seems to think that calling something “natural” is unequivocally a compliment, endless debates have arisen about which body type is more natural.  While it is true that, in the State of Nature, no-one would be anorexic, it is also true that no-one would be fat — everyone would be fairly buff from working all day and running from lions and whatnot, and even in civilized history, the fact that one must exercise to be in shape is a fairly recent phenomenon; until recently, the vast majority of the people on earth had lives that involved near-constant physical labor (although they weren’t exactly hot, due to disease and malnutrition).  But what does any of this matter?  In the State of Nature there aren’t any toilets, and people with bad eyesight keep bumping into things — i.e., the State of Nature sucks, so it’s probably best that both sides abandon the “natural” argument entirely.

III. Red State, Blue State, Fat State, Thin State

But although The 1585 accepts the sad fact that, in certain ways, cruelty is a part of human nature, I wholly reject the idea that cruelty is the dominant force at work when it comes to human sexuality.  This wrongheaded notion has become disturbingly widespread in recent years, largely due to the Religious Right appropriating the rhetoric of the Feminist Left.  A good friend of mine attended a conservative high school where abstinence-only sex education was taught — this involved the faculty blacking out large sections of the textbook with magic marker and changing the name of the course from a typical one like Sex Education or Maturation or simply Health to “Sex Respect.”  For good and obvious reasons, respect has been a byword of the Feminist Left since the heyday of Aretha Franklin — and yet it was so easily twisted to serve the oversimplified purposes of the Conservatives: “respect” means not doing it and, by extension, doing it — or even wanting to — implies a lack of “respect.”  The feminists were doubtless displeased to see their anthem snatched by the Christian Right, but they set themselves up to have it stolen by spending the previous several years arguing any number of permutations of the idea that wanting to have sex with someone is an insult.

The rhetoric of so-called “respect” is just as often turned on our relationships with our own bodies — a school or company dress code will use “respect yourself” as code for “don’t dress too sexy;” an anti-fitness propagandist will angrily object to the term being used in conjunction with a weight-loss or exercise product.  The idea, it would seem, is that anyone who truly “respected” themselves wouldn’t care whether or not they were attractive to others, and that anyone who truly “respected” others wouldn’t care whether they were attractive either.  And it is this rhetoric that highlights the essential similarity between the Religious Right and the Orthodox Feminist Left:  a denial of the fact that human beings are flesh-and-blood animals, and that, as such, it is as impossible for us to simply “not care” about physical attractiveness as it would be not to care that there is no oxygen in the room.

The two camps would be right to argue that we should avoid becoming “obsessed” with attractiveness, or caring about it to the exclusion of all other concerns — but seriously arguing that a fat slob is more psychologically together than someone who exercises daily is not so much a warning against “obsession” as it is a declaration of total war on the human sex drive.  I fail to see how a couple who takes care of their bodies because each one is happy that it gives their partner pleasure to be with them are “respecting” each other less than a couple who lets themselves go.

Liberty with boob out
Pictured: Liberty failing to respect herself.

The all-around terror of sex has even gotten to the point where many of the relatively few people who still make an effort to be attractive have had to convince themselves that “attractive” means something distinct from “sexually attractive” — the second type of attractiveness is the one that implies the dreaded lack of “respect,” while the former, they would argue, is merely professional, or civilized, or some such code-word.  This form of doublethink helps explain why, when you see young women sporting traditionally feminine attire, with flawless hair and makeup, half the time they turn out to be Conservative Christians — they may be anti-sex, but they are still pro-gender-difference, because they have allowed themselves to believe that this has more to do with some abstract ideal of societal order than it does with sex.

The Academic Feminist Left, meanwhile, which often claims to be pro-sex in theory but is hampered in this by being anti-gender-difference to the point where they end up anti-sex in practice, rejects exercise because gender differences are more noticeable on in-shape bodies than they are on out-of-shape bodies.

The rest of us, then, are left with a choice between a society full of people that you want to have sex with but can’t, and a society full of people that you can have sex with but don’t want to.

Like most sex-related issues, the body-image debate is a giant paradox where everyone is stumbling around in the dark, hurting their friends and helping their enemies.  Although most anti-thinness rhetoric originates on the Left, the Red States are actually much fatter than the Blue States — and recent studies have even uncovered a correlation with religion (less than 1% of non-Christians are clinically obese, while the national percentage is more like 30%).  Like outsourcing, this is one of those issues that makes strange bedfellows of the Right and the Far Left — the Right is against sex in general, while the Far Left is against women going out of their way to look good for men.  It’s the Left that has to walk the finer line here, and the same problem has been plaguing them since the 1960s:  How can we be pro-sex while still being against women being inconvenienced by standards of beauty (seeing as how no-one has ever been able to devise a model of sexiness that didn’t involve this)?

Partly out of jealousy over the fact that way more people pay attention to movie stars than to poets or philosophers, the academic Left turned its attention to thin celebrities being “bad role models,” but this backfired in a big way:  any time you give Middle America a chance to excoriate celebrities for having “bad values,” you end up helping the Right — and the fat Red States now blame them ol’ godless Liberals for the thinness epidemic, even though it was the Liberals who first spoke out against it.

Of course, there is no “thinness epidemic,” because America is currently fatter than any country has ever been in the history of the world, but seeing as how the Right and the Left are both up-in-arms about it, you’re certainly going to sell more magazines by pointing out that Lindsay Lohan is “wasting away” than by pointing out that the entire state of Indiana is slippery with lard — thus, the liberal media and the conservative media combined to form the petty, jealous, immature media, and the chiming of the supermarket cash registers could be heard echoing throughout empty gyms across the land.

IV. Celebrity Sleuth

And whenever someone is going off about “too-thin” celebrities being “bad role models,” they inevitably mention Britney Spears — you may remember one pundit a few years back even saying that she would shoot poor Britney if she had the chance.  Of course, anyone with a pair of eyes can tell you that Britney Spears is actually among the least thin of the current Pantheon of female pop stars (and that this was true even before she became pregnant for the first time).  Many artists with the feminist seal-of-approval, such as Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, and Liz Phair, are clearly thinner than Britney — so if the issue is purely thinness, then why do we never hear a bad word about them?  Probably because they’re a lot smarter, and write their own songs, and don’t dress as sexily.  And what about Kylie Minogue?  She’s way thinner than Britney and dresses just as sexily, and no feminists seem to have beef with her — of course, this may be explicable by a desire to avoid arguments within Gender-Studies departments, since Kylie is an icon of the gay community.

If the issue is self-esteem, then why is Christina Aguilera, who did that song “Fighter,” a stirring chick-headbanger about flipping the bird to your oppressors, reviled by many in the “real-women” crowd, in favor of any number of folksier artists who keep doing songs about being depressed and/or a victim?  Does the simple matter of whether or not one owns a pair of leather chaps really outweigh everything else in terms of its effect on the self-esteem of our nation’s young women?

The same thing is happening with “high” art in academic circles, where attractive female poets like Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Edna St. Vincent Millay are downplayed or dismissed in favor of unattractive ones like Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Bishop, and Marianne Moore — seemingly because pretty girls have it too “easy” to be true artists, but forgetting the fact that two of the pretty poets just mentioned committed suicide, and none of the latter did.

So if it’s not thinness, or sexiness, or self-esteem, what is the issue?  It can’t be talent, because the haters almost always mention Britney and Christina in the same breath even though Christina has the best voice out of everyone mentioned whereas Britney can barely carry a tune without electronic assistance.  It can’t be intelligence, because Christina seems to be at least as intelligent as the folksier female artists, despite the skimpy outfits and shiny blonde hair.  It would appear that the issue is not body image at all, but only sex itself; the too-thin criticism is leveled at any woman who becomes an object of lust for straight men, regardless of how thin she actually is or isn’t.

I’d like to believe that something a bit more noble is at work here, but I simply can’t see how — if the issue is anything other than simple jealousy, then why do we never hear the too-thin accusation aimed at a woman who is thin but has an ugly face, and only ever at women who are thin and have pretty faces?  If the issue is the health of the body, then thin is thin, right?

The more one examines the specifics of who gets criticized and who doesn’t, the less it seems to have anything to do with physical health.  Cameron Diaz’s body is as “ideal” as any body in the universe, but women like her because she seems to have a sense of humor about being attractive; Sarah Michelle Gellar is just as thin as the girls from The O.C., but she played feminist icon Buffy instead of a jealousy-inducing popular rich girl; Shakira’s body is better than Britney’s, but she jokes about having small boobs — plus, she’s Latina, and most of the too-thin theorists are guilty Caucasians who only feel comfortable criticizing other white people (of course, Christina is also Latina, but to the eyes of most people, she “presents” as white).

The formula ends up seeming something like:  Don’t be too sexy, unless you’re also funny, or non-white, or we really, really like that one show you were on, or gay people worship you, because then we’ll imply that you’re dumb even if you’re not, by calling you “too thin” even if you are clearly not all that thin.

The Left may have decided some time ago that it was unacceptable to call people dumb, but at this point, “too thin” seems to be acting as a code-word for dumb, even when the women in question are not actually dumb.  Why did would-be feminists decide it was a good idea to bring back the stereotype that a woman can’t be smart and sexy at the same time?

V. The Fat Old Days?

People always bring up the “good old days” of body image, and talk about curvy Vargas girls and how Marilyn Monroe was a size whatever-it-was — but the Left-wing idea of how healthy those days were is just as much a revisionist pipe-dream as the Right-wing idea of how moral they were.

First of all, the fact that the ideal was different doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an ideal at all.  Yes, a very small percentage of women have the body of Calista Flockhart, but was the percentage with the body of Jayne Mansfield really any greater?  It seems like roughly the same percentage of women are going to feel bad about their bodies at any given time, no matter which of the various competing ideals is having its turn in the spotlight.

I do accept the idea that the sexual “ideal,” for both women and men, is partly created by society — but with an emphasis on partly.  Ideas about whether X is sexier than Y can be manipulated by the media, but only within a genetically predetermined ballpark — society can go back and forth on Kate Moss vs. Bettie Page, but we could never be made to believe that a 300-pound woman with zits and a moustache is hotter than both of them, even if the infamous “media”put her on all the magazine covers in the world.

There is almost certainly a link in a society’s collective unconscious between the prevailing idea of how a woman is supposed to look and the prevailing idea of how a woman is supposed to act.  Monroe’s curves may have been a positive from a feminist perspective, but what about the other ingredients in the recipe: the affected voice, the expression of perpetual surprise, the fact that she had to act dumb, even though she wasn’t?  Taken all together, the curves plus the other stuff paint a picture of Monroeism as the ideal of the girl-woman; of virgin chic, with the stuff that curves are made of seeming less like “real-woman” fat than baby fat.  The curves of the mid-century pinup girl were there to make her seem like a na´ve teenager — trickable, conquerable, rapeable.

Compare this aesthetic to the much-maligned “unattainable” bodies of today.  21st-Century sex goddesses like Courteney Cox, Angelina Jolie, and the latest incarnation of the perennial Madonna aren’t just thin — they’re ripped.  They have six-packs and muscle definition in their arms that would have been a huge turn-off thirty years ago.  Madonna could probably beat me in arm wrestling — hell, Angelina Jolie looks like she could kick the living shit out of me in the UFC Octagon.  Yes, these bodies are supremely difficult to attain, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they set a bad example or contribute to a self-abasing psychology — after all, what could be more empowering than for a woman to look like she could take a man in a street fight, and to be sexy not despite this, but because of it?

(And besides, all this talk about “curves” is a red herring anyway, because “curvy” doesn't mean overweight — it means having an extreme waist-to-hip ratio.  Marilyn Monroe's measurements were 36-22-35.  On what freaking planet is a woman with a 22-inch waist a size 12, or a size 16, or whatever size people on the internet keep claiming Marilyn was?)

It also seems like sexiness based on the presence of physical power has a tendency to bring intellectual respect along with it.  The bygone curvy ideal may have allowed you to spend less time in the gym and more time on the couch, but let’s say you’re making a movie about a brilliant female physicist — would a “realistic” fat woman really be more believable than a “fake” thin one?  Now, at this point, you might say the problem is that we have a cognitive link at all between how a woman looks and how she probably thinks, and you’d be right — but the debate here is the one about the supposed example that certain celebrities are setting, and all I’m saying is that there’s an upside to the new feminine ideal replacing the old one:  the casting-off of curviness hasn’t just rendered the “ideal” woman thinner than she used to be, but tougher and smarter too.

Yes, I’m aware that this too can be read as sexism — that the reason the new ideal woman seems smarter is because she seems more like a man — but is this necessarily an evil when examined in the context of the big picture?  Just look at what’s been happening to the ideal man over the course of the same timeframe:  he’s become less aggressive, his hair is longer, he exfoliates and moisturizes, and although muscles are still part of the picture, the focus has shifted from his biceps (the muscle at play in the old “make a muscle” request that you never hear anymore, as if it were the only one in the male body) to his abs and his butt — the same areas that women worry about most.  And guys who fit this profile are also seen as smarter than their more traditionally masculine counterparts.

So, if the women who seem the most like men and the men who seem the most like women are both perceived as smarter than the rest, then is what’s going on actually sexism?  If it is, it’s sexism of the same variety being employed against both genders equally.  And if all these phenomena really are linked in some way, then is a return to the curvy “real-woman” ideal really the most desirable option — even if it means that women will have to act dumb again, or that men will follow suit by regressing from Queer Eye back into Popeye?

Appropriately enough, as a conclusion to an article defending the new thinness, it may be the case that both women and men simply cannot have their cake and eat it too. 



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