Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why Huge is Huge

198 pounds
After seeing an ad for Huge that featured Nikki Blonsky (of Hairspray fame) in only her bathing suit, I had high hopes that this show about a bunch of teenagers at fat camp would push the obesity and body issue discussion into unchartered territory. And last night, Huge followed through on that implicit promise.

Not only does the show actually feature many, many people with real bodies . . .

curvy bodies,
lumpy bodies,

obese bodies,
—it also doesn't turn them into offensive fat jokes, which is what usually happens when we see overweight characters on film or in television, relegating them to being either the source of inane humor or the sidekick. Or—worse still—both.

But on Huge, "fat" people are real characters—fully developed people who are both likeable and fallible, making them incredibly empathetic and the show that much more interesting.

And let's be honest, a show about "fat" people—real, appealing, honest-to-God "fat" people—is huge in and of itself.

But, as we know from Tobey Maguire, with great power comes great responsibility. And this show has a huge responsibility as well: simply put, it must be honest about obesity. This is so important that I'm going to repeat it:

This show MUST be honest about obesity.

In other words, it can't convey the message that people are obese simply because they eat too much.

It's hard to say at this point which direction the show is going on this issue.

No, Huge isn't making offensive wisecracks about how much these characters eat, but it is showing them as kids who love their junk food. Blonsky's character—the wonderfully sassy Will (short for Wilhelmina)—keeps a stash of candy and snacks underneath the fake bottom of her suitcase, some of which she eats herself and some of which she sells on the fat camp black market. And after Will tries to run away from camp, the first thing she does is order a big plate of french fries and a large chocolate shake at a roadside dinner.

The message is clear: "fat" people like fatty foods.

And I don't really buy it.

I don't believe, for instance, that Blonsky is the size she is because she eats three times as much as the rest of us. I believe, instead, that she's that size because of her genes and because of the chemicals in our environment. (If you don't know what chemicals I'm talking about, be sure to read my "Rethinking Baby Fat" post.)

Still, I'm not ready to throw out the baby with the bath water.

And here's why . . .

Though camp director Dr. Rand—played by Firefly's Gina Torres—sends the message that Will is overweight solely because of the food she eats when she asks Will, "Don't you want to change your life?" Will isn't buying it. On more than one occasion, Will actively resists the idea that she needs to lose weight or that she shouldn't like herself the way she is, as do some of the other campers who post signs like this near their bunk:
Early on we also find out that Will's parents made her go to fat camp against her will. More importantly, she reveals that she doesn't even want to lose weight. "I'm down with my fat," she says during one scene, and later rolls her eyes with disgusts at one character's "thin-spiration" wall. And when Torres' Dr. Rand questions her in the diner, she responds by accusing Rand of wanting her to hate her body, something she is unwilling to do.

It remains to be seen whether or not Huge will fall in line with Will's take on her body or Dr. Rand's, but I can say this: as long as Will refuses to dislike herself the way she is, I'm there.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Red Alert!

ABC Family's new television show Huge starts tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Be sure to tune in or set your DVR!

"Funny, heartbreaking and provocative, Huge follows the lives of seven teens and the staff at a weight-loss camp, as they look beneath the surface to discover their true selves and the truth about each other."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Holy hypocrisy, Batman

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On Tuesday, I talked about how the new film Mother and Child depicts Jimmy Smits—a very good looking and relatively fit actor—as overweight.

During that post, I talked about how unusual it is to see men like Smits have to answer for their weight and how—more often than not—the opposite occurs: female actors are expected to have ridiculously impeccable bodies if they want to get work while their male counterparts are allowed to age normally, adding a few pounds to their waistline every few years.

There are NUMEROUS examples of this phenomenon—Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Dustin Hoffman, Vince Vaughn, Al Pacino, Robert Deniro, even Jimmy Smits. But you'd be hard-pressed to name five female actors who have put on the pounds and continued to work.

Yes, Meryl Streep is not as slim as she was thirty years ago, but she certainly doesn't have a bulging stomach like these men do. Her stomach is, in fact, quite fit. And the fact that she's as tall as she is and wears a size fourteen tells me that you probably can't pinch more than an inch around her middle.

Not only is this phenomenon made obvious by looking at these actors, as I mentioned on Tuesday, it's also made obvious by considering the television shows and films in our cultural zeitgeist: Knocked Up, The Break-up, King of Queens, Still Standing, According to Jim, Seinfeld, Frasier, and the list goes on.

This issue has bothered me for quite some time, but it really came to a head for me when I saw Couples Retreat on video recently (a movie that is so inane, unfortunately, I can't recommend it). As I mentioned in my last post, there is a scene in that movie that perfectly embodies this double standard, and I want to talk more about that scene today—as well as illustrate it—because it is, in fact, so egregious.

If you haven't seen the movie, it's about four couples who decide to go on an island retreat to improve their marriages. One of the couples is considering divorce, and their troubles are the original impetus for the trip (though later we find out that other couples are struggling too).

What none of them know until they get there is that the resort where they are going is one that requires all of them to participate in a bunch of feel-good hocus pocus in order to bring some life back into their relationships.

And on the morning after their arrival, the first thing they are told to do on the beach is strip down to their underwear. I can't remember the exact thinking about this, but it probably had something to do with needing to bare themselves to each other.

I knew all along that the women were in better shape than the men, but when they took their clothes off, I was simply astonished.

The women—Kristen Davis, Malin Akerman, Kristin Bell, and Kali Hawk (not pictured here)—are insanely gorgeous specimens, both buff enough to kick some serious cardio butt at the gym and beautiful to grace the cover of a magazine.

But when the men—Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, John Favreu, and Faizon Love (not pictured here)—take off their clothes, they are all man boobs and beer guts. Even the thinnest of them—Bateman—reveals a surprisingly flabby middle.

Though I couldn't find a picture that included the fourth couple, you can see that they also demonstrate the same double standard in this photo:

It was at this moment—seeing these two diametrically opposed groups standing across from each other on an idyllic beach in paradise—that I realized there was something really wrong with the expectations we have for female celebrities. Sure, I always knew we held them to unrealistic expectations but never before had I seen such a clear picture of how hypocritical this double standard really is.

Simply put, in our society we are willing to let men look real and still be considered attractive but completely unwilling to make the same allowances for women.

I mean, my God, look at this picture of Kristin Davis:

The woman is in her mid-forties (!!!!!), and she still has a body like a twenty-year-old!

That's just not normal.

And if we don't allow the women in our movies and on our television shows—in their thirties, forties, and fifties—to look normal or have even an iota of body fat, then how can we ever be happy with our own very real and imperfect bodies? How can we ever see a movie and feel good about ourselves again?

The answer is that we can't, and until we stop these images from being thrown at us time and again—in our living rooms, magazines, and movie theatres—we stand no chance of accepting ourselves the way we are.

So I say we vote with our dollars and refuse to see movies that feature couples who are so poorly matched on a physical level.

It may take a while for Hollywood notice, but eventually they'll get the hint.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The shoe on the other foot

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This weekend Dave and I went to see Mother and Child, a gut-wrenching film about the adoption process told from the point of view of three different woman played by Annette Benning, Kerry Washington, and Naomi Watts in her best role ever. (Samuel L. Jackson also delivers an amazing and refreshingly subtle performance.)

It's a very good film, and I recommend it to everyone even though it just misses the mark a few times.

What's interesting about this movie from a body issues perspective is the character played by Jimmy Smits—Paco—who is a love interest for Annette Benning's character, Karen.

When Karen meets Paco, she describes him to her mother as "heavyset." Call me crazy, but it's not the first thing I would say to describe Jimmy Smits (pictured below looking smoking hot on a press junket for the film).

(Then again, the woman is married to Warren Beatty in real life, so maybe she picked up some of his attitude.)

When Paco and Karen go out for coffee, he orders apple pie as well, explaining, "I can never resist apple pie" with a smile that would melt the ice caps. Every woman in the theatre was swooning, but not Karen. She says, "Well, maybe you should."

Despite this auspicious start, the two end up together, and when Karen meets his daughter, the two women discuss the fact that he needs to lose weight—right in front of him!

As all of this was happening, I kept thinking, what the f***?!

Jimmy Smits is heavyset?

Jimmy Smits needs to turn down the apple pie?

What kind of parallel universe are we living in???!

I have yet to discuss this in detail on my blog, but most of us know that live in a world where male actors are ALWAYS bigger than their female co-stars. The recent romantic comedy Couples Retreat offered the best evidence of this I've ever seen when the four couples stripped down to their bathing suits. At that moment, four women stood on one side in perfect, movie-star shape while, on the other side, four out-of-shape men sheepishly revealed their bulging middles.

And let's not forget the plethora of television shows that have featured bigger men with tiny little women . . . King of Queens, Still Standing, According to Jim, Frasier, Seinfeld, and ironically NYPD Blue. The list goes on and on.

In our society, men are allowed to be overweight—either a little overweight or a lot overweight—but woman are not.

If a woman is the slightest bit curvy, she needs to go on a diet. If a man has a little extra weight around his middle, he's normal.

So when I saw Paco getting so much flak over a slightly larger middle, I couldn't help but laugh. Finally, the shoe was on the other foot. Finally, a man knows what it's like to be under such tight scrutiny.

There's only one tiny little problem—all of this happened only in the movies. This means that, for now, all of us women will have to dream of a time when men are held the same standards we are in real life.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Better late than never

198 pounds
I've been playing tennis on Tuesday nights here in Bowling Green for a while now, and this past Tuesday I met the most adorable little eight-year-old whom I'll call India.

As fate would have it, I injured my arm while playing tennis this week and, as a result, had to forfeit my match and was sent back to the minor leagues, also known as the drill court. That's where I came across India. Her mother was playing on the drill court too, and India was sitting on the sidelines watching and running around like a young woman on a mission.

Whenever any of us got a break, India would run right up to us and start talking and asking a myriad of questions. She grilled any and all of us about things as varied as the rules of tennis to the heat index (which was 101 on Tuesday). And, in that way, she kind of reminded me of that hysterical little kid from Jerry Maguire (pictured above).

During one of my breaks, I asked India if we had met before because she seemed so familiar, and she reminded me that she had been the one attacking me with questions the first week of our tennis league earlier in the spring.

Suddenly, it came back to me. This was the precocious little kid had come up to me and said, "Hi, my name is India" as if everyone on the planet should know who she was. I took an immediate liking to her. Who doesn't love a confident, outgoing kid?

And this Tuesday was no exception—she was still full of questions about life, tennis, and everything else.

So when I was on my way home from tennis that night, I thought about how India is the kind of kid who has enough energy, confidence, and intelligence to become an extraordinary adult and to do anything.

And then it hit me.

That's what I was like as a kid.

I was constantly butting into adult conversations, completely unaware of the fact that I was supposed to be playing with my toys or hanging out with kids my own age rather than offering opinions on grown-up issues. And there were many adults who noticed that about me—friends, family members, even teachers. It wasn't unusual for someone to comment on my maturity and intelligence. In fact, people did it all the time. And they were always telling me I could do anything, which is exactly what I thought about India.

But here's the sad part.

I didn't buy it.

In fact, I'm sorry to say that it took me years—maybe thirty?—to realize that I could do anything I wanted.

And the reason I didn't buy it is even worse.

I didn't buy it because I didn't see myself as attractive. I truly believed that the people who made it, the people who succeeded, were all good-looking. And I never really saw myself as good-looking, at least not until the past few years.

So why did I make this equation between looks and success?

I think we all know the answer to that. We spend so much time worshipping beautiful people in our society and worrying about what we look like ourselves that it's easy to equate beauty with value (and this is especially true when we're young). And from there it's not hard to think that if we're not beautiful, we have no value.

I'm of course glad that I finally figured out how wrong an equation that is, but I do wish I had figured it out years earlier.

I suppose all I can do now is comfort myself with the though that it's never too late.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

by guest blogger Courtney Butler

I’ve been a plus-size model for local Chicago clothing designers for over a year now. I’ve gone on midnight photo shoots with nothing but a cocktail dress against the freezing cold, as well as teetering around on ice-pick heels in the Botanical Gardens.

Never in a million years did I think I would actually be a model.

Even saying it now, here, makes me uncomfortable. When I explain to strangers that I am an English tutor who does part-time modeling, I feel obligated to explain that it’s plus-size modeling, that I know I’m not skinny, that it’s not real modeling… like I have to make excuses and give explanations.

Here I am, almost 25 years old, and still struggling with issues from my childhood. So when the opportunity came to model, I seized it. I thought I’d feel different. I hoped being a model would somehow transform how I saw myself. Instead, it makes you acutely aware of your own body, how it looks on and off camera, how much make-up makes a difference, etc.

It wasn’t until my first (and only!) runway show that I started to understand these things about modeling. Not only did I discover that I wholeheartedly hate doing runway, but that I needed to reconsider modeling all together. To be a high fashion model you have to be willing to dedicate your entire life—your body, your energy, your attitude, everything, to being a model. When you’re surrounded by people backstage who are clothing you, putting bronzer on your legs, telling you what to do with your face—your body does not feel like your own. You get no say in what you wear, how you walk, what your expression is, how your hair looks.


You have to walk down the catwalk as someone else. You give up your physical form to the artistic whims of others. They can arbitrarily select you or reject you. I’ve been lucky enough to work with compassionate, wonderful designers, who genuinely enjoy the curvy female form. But it won’t always be that way.

Don’t get me wrong, doing photo shoots are fun. I’ve always nurtured a flair for the dramatic, and putting on a wardrobe and make-up, creating a moment that is captured on film, is wonderful to me. I’ve amassed a good amount of lovely pictures, and having those to look at on a low self-esteem day is very helpful. But it doesn’t shake that deep down, super ingrained insecurity that has plagued me since childhood.

When I was growing up, the constant comparison to my older sister always left me feeling inadequate. She was the petite Snow White who fought off the attentions of the opposite sex, and I grew awkwardly into a gangly tomboy, mostly looking all teeth, eyebrows and hips. It wasn’t until college that my body saw fit to level itself into an even—and surprisingly pleasing—playing field. But my childhood insecurities came back to me when I stepped on that runway.

It was a few weeks after the runway show when I experienced a moment that allowed me to see that modeling wasn’t worth my while.

I was walking down the sidewalk on my way home from work. The sun was high, and spring was in full riot. I was rested, feeling comfortable in my clothes and listening to a great set list on my iPod. I was in a happy place and enjoying the sunshine. Then my hips started swaying to the music, and I unconsciously began to catwalk down the sidewalk. I literally stopped traffic that day. Drivers slowed down as I walked by—several of them honking their horns and hollering out of windows. A few simply stopped their cars to watch me. I wasn’t wearing make-up or designer clothes, but people were still reacting like I was Venus incarnate. It wasn’t that I looked like a model. It was that I was simply enjoying myself.

More importantly, other people’s reactions didn’t really matter as much to me as the fact that I felt beautiful.

Since that wonderful afternoon on the sidewalk I have basically decided to stop pursuing modeling with any real vigor. I still adore the designers I’ve worked for and will continue to do photo shoots, but I don’t want to give my body away anymore. I can’t arbitrarily select or reject the only body I’ve got. I cannot base my self-worth on the opinions of others. Instead of dedicating my energy to becoming someone else’s ideal, I will continue to nurture my own talents and take better care of the body I was given.

This is, of course, an on-going struggle.

There are days I feel like I’m waging a nuclear war with my head. Overcoming body dysmorphia and eating disorders is not pretty or easy, and I’ve suffered from both. But plus-size models like Crystal Renn and actresses like Christina Hendricks are my role models. These women make me feel beautiful and continually inspire me. They carry the burden of the public eye with grace, and hopefully they will continue to usher in an era of healthy bodies.

Life is a catwalk for these gorgeous women, and it can be for all of us. Every day we walk, we can talk and wear what we think and believe. We can treat ourselves the way we think we deserve to be treated. So, why not behave like a supermodel every day? Why not swing our hips to music only we can hear and insist on the better brand of bottled water? (Okay, getting snarky about water isn’t such a great idea, but you get the idea.)

Poster, movies, advertisements… these are momentary images designed to manipulate us. The relationship we have with ourselves lasts a lifetime.

I can throw away a magazine, but I cannot throw away the woman I see every day in the mirror.

Raised in the Wild West, COURTNEY BUTLER went to college in North Carolina and graduate school in Wales and now lives in the Windy City. She is currently working as an English tutor, but hopes to go to cosmetology school and write sneaky short stories and poems about her clientele. Her poetry and thoughts can be found at The Courtrose and is hoping to make enough money writing and doing highlights that she can afford her own cat and cello.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Step it up: say no to short elevator rides

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Dave and I spent last weekend in Nashville with my parents, and just like always, I sought out the staircase at our hotel. We were staying on the third floor, and it seemed ridiculous to take the elevator every time I wanted to go up two floors.

I've been doing this for years and have seen the inside of many, many hotel staircases—some I'd like to never see again. Believe you me. But it's a totally rare occasion when I spy another human being hoofing it to their room.

And when I thought this last weekend, it hit me: why does it seem like most people fall back on the elevator when staying in a hotel? These same people don't normally use an elevator to go up one floor at work, but the fact that most hotel staircases are hard to find and somewhat unkempt makes me think most people get lazier when they travel.

It's as if there's some unwritten rule about the way we act in a hotel. People will actually visit the postage-stamp-size room that most hotels pass off as a gym and climb on the stairmaster to get their heart rate up, but when it comes to lifting their legs up the real stairs? Forget it. You're more likely to see a frat boy sober on Thirsty Thursday.

So what would happen if we didn't take the easy way out? Is it possible the solution to the obesity problem in our country is as simple as avoiding the elevator at the Holiday Inn?

I propose that we find out.

Promise yourself that the next time you find yourself standing before a hotel elevator—or any elevator for that matter—just to go up one or two floors, you'll do yourself and all of us a favor by finding the stairs. Sometimes you have to look for them or even ask for directions, but 99% of the time, they're open to the public.

I'll do my part if you do yours.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Conquering the Apple store

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Last year—not long after I started this blog—I visited the Apple store and wrote about that experience here in a post called "The Apple store and the art of self-loathing." In that post, I explained that every single time I go to the Apple store, I get intimidated by how hip everyone seems (even the store is a bright beacon of coolness!) and, as a result, find myself returning to my old self—the self who always feels unattractive and fat, the self who thinks I'm a monster.

Well, something happened this week.  Something good and something bad.

I'll start with the bad.

My computer died. I don't mean it crashed. I mean it completely and totally gave up the ghost. So I had to have my entire hard drive replaced. 

This meant I had to go back to the Apple store. And this is where the good news comes in. When I realized I had to go to the Apple store, I also realized that—sometime over the past year—the Apple store lost the ability to intimidate me. I no longer worried that I would be the un-cool, fat girl standing in front of the hip boys at the genius bar with my legs crossed like a nervous Nellie. In fact, I thought the opposite would happen: I'd be confident and comfortable with my self, and—better yet—they would like me because of it.
Just feeling this way would have been enough to make me happy, but as it turns out, it wasn't just a feeling I had. It was reality. Because when I was hanging out at the genius bar last Saturday, one of the Apple store employees actually gave me a compliment. In a very appreciative voice, he said, "you're so practical," and I knew he meant, compared to our other customers

This may seem like no big deal to you, but since this was a place that used to make my anxiety level soar, it was a big freaking deal to me. 

And the best part is that I know—I just know—that the only reason I received that compliment is because I believed in myself. 

As it turns out, confidence is contagious. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Curve ball

199 pounds
If you've never watched Modern Family, I highly recommend it.

It's an outstanding new sitcom that is both hysterical and progressive—with a family composed of sixty-something Jay (played by Ed O'Neill), his new hot Latina wife, Gloria, and her son, Manny. But the show also features the families of the patriarch's two kids: Claire who has three kids with her husband Phil and Mitchell who has just adopted an adorable Asian baby with his partner Cameron.

This show is notable for MANY reasons—because it shows an older man married to a much younger woman, because it shows relationships that cross ethnic lines, and most importantly because it shows a gay couple in a loving, monogamous relationship and that gay couple adopts a baby.

But another thing that makes the show more progressive than the average sitcom is the fact that the hottest women on the show is not Claire, the thin petite blonde, but rather
Gloria, the voluptuous Latina played by Sofía Vergara.

I never really thought about the fact that Gloria, not Claire, is depicted as the hottest woman on the show before, but during the recent season finale, something happened that turned me on this unexpected reality.

In the finale, the entire cast goes to Hawaii to celebrate Jay's birthday, and during one of the first scenes, Claire catches her husband, Phil, gawking at Gloria as she exits the pool . . . hair dripping, body glistening, and—wait for it—thighs jiggling.

Thighs jiggling?

Yes, I said thighs jiggling.

Because Gloria does not have a perfect, cellulite-free body. No, she has a very real body—with cellulite and enough curves to give Mad Men's Christina Hendricks a run for her money.

And when she stepped out of the pool—her lovely and immense thighs and hips reminding me of my own more than anyone else I've seen in a bathing suit on my television screen—I almost fell out of my chair. Gloria is, simply put, a real woman.

Clearly that's enough reason for all of us to watch.

*Modern Family is on hiatus during the summer, but you can catch re-runs Wednesday nights at 8:30 on ABC.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Just the way you are*

199 pounds
It finally feels like summer is fully here—school is a distant memory, my days are my own, and it's hot enough that I sweat too much every day.

Thankfully, I'm sweating because I'm working out all the time. Two-a-days are now a regular part of my routine. The only problem is that my weight isn't budging. I keep telling myself that all of this hard work will pay off in the long run, but it's hard to be patient, you know?

Then I ask myself, why do I care that my weight is up? I feel good, I look good, so what's the problem? Aren't I the one who always says we shouldn't worry about the number on the scale? And that we should love ourselves the way we are?

So why has my recent weight gain been so hard on me emotionally?

I think it's because I accepted myself at 192 pounds, which was really, really hard to do and took years of working on how I saw myself and thought about my body. It wasn't easy to look in the mirror, know that I weighed over 190 pounds, and be happy. But I did it. I really did it.

The only problem is that once I accepted myself at that weight, I became unhappy as soon as I inexplicably started gaining weight.

But why should I care if I've gained a few pounds as long as I'm still healthy and attractive? I'm the one who always says it's just a number, right?

I wish I could say I simply believed this without any difficulty, but the truth is that it's been really hard over the past few months to learn that practicing what I preach means accepting myself at any weight, not just a weight that I've accepted in the past but also a weight I have to accept myself at now.

Fortunately, two things happened over the past few days to get me to the place I need to be with my new weight:

1) I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and was surprised to see that my body was rocking the curves. They didn't look bad or flabby or gross. They looked hot.

2) And then today, Dave and I were hanging around the house when he looked at me appreciatively and said, "I don't know why you worry about your body. You look great."

I guess I have no choice now but to listen.

*In honor of accepting myself the way I am, I've included a smoking hot picture of Colin Firth as Mark Darcy, Mr. "I like you very much—just as you are."