We are told that ‘being health conscious is good.’ ‘Healthy is good, unhealthy is bad.’ Why then the media focuses on the svelte figure of women? And why does women’s magazine focus so much on ‘how to get flat tummy in 7 days?’ or which celeb lost/gained weight? According to media an actress cannot gain weight. Gaining weight, even if it is during pregnancy, is a horrible crime and not getting rid of it ASAP is an even greater sin. Hundreds memes defaming “the fatness” attract millions of like on social networking sites, but majority of them have ‘fat’ girls or women.
Then there is a section of ‘responsible’ media that has come out in defense of ‘fat’ women with campaigns like “Real beauty” and much ink (albeit virtual ink) has been spilled for and against it. While on the face value they are doing a commendable job of portraying full figured women of various ‘unconventional’ sizes, the products that they are selling tries to hide the cellulite, wrinkles—basically in order to be a ‘real’ beauty one needs to perfect the flaws. Another problem with the concept of ‘real beauty’, ‘real women’ is the models, although of ‘unconventional’ sizes and body types, are full-figured with flat stomach and toned (airbrushed?) ‘problem areas’ at best. ‘Real’ woman doesn’t look like that.
Women, like men and children have ‘flaws’. She has uneven skin, often with freckles and pores, scaly skin with wrinkles and worry lines that map her face and crow feet that highlight the twinkle in her eyes when she smiles. She has cellulite and sometimes she tries to cover it and on some days she doesn’t even want to bother about it. She probably has a muffin top or even a rotund belly and is (or is not) capable of liking the way it falls and rises when she is lying or she has perfectly flat stomach or striving for one. Either way, she is a ‘real’ woman.
The problem is not that the company is being hypocritical, (it’s ad world! That’s how it functions). Neither is the problem that they are using flat stomached, arguably well toned models. In fact their effort to break away from the stereotypes and widen our perception to accommodate achievable standards as beauty is commendable. The problem is with the words ‘Real beauty’ ‘real women’. Are they setting down definitions, listing down things that one needs to have or not have in order to qualify as being ‘real’ women? It, like many of the feminist and pseudo-feminist blogs have reiterated, borders on thin-shaming. A thin girl or woman is also perfectly real, for there is no such thing as an ‘unreal’ woman.
What it actually shows is, the power of media. It is the media that conjured the idea of a perfect body, with its runway model size women plastered across the covers of hundreds of magazines taunting women to look themselves in mirror and fret about not having that flawless complexion and high cheek bones. Feel their neckline and grope for that hollow made by non-existent collar bones. While those high cheeks, flawless complexion and collar bones on the glossy pages are retouched and often artificially conceived. As if that was not enough, the mannequins taunt them for not having that perfect body, almost saying “Oh don’t worry love, we might have it in your dress size but forget that it would look this good on you. You aren’t hot enough.”
In a world that is increasingly obsessing over body image it is fitting to now focus on body image issues. Eating disorders are widely condemned, and rightly so, but shaming the people suffering from disorders is no way to go about it. As is the case with most problems, we have got it all wrong when it comes to solving it. Yes, eating disorders are harmful and self-destructive. There is no denying there. To see that there are forums for anorexics and bulimics, not to recover from it but to encourage each other, support one another to push themselves and ‘drop that one more pound’ is disturbing, isn’t it? However the truth is that’s how the forums for ‘obese’ (no not necessarily obese but even the motivated healthy) work. Isn’t it then that they have appropriated the normal and widely approved norm for themselves? Why then does it bother us so much? It bothers us because we can see these individuals pushing themselves to the edge, in the direction where society pointed them in the first place!
I always had strong opinions when it came to eating disorder (partly because of my skinny stature and freak of a metabolism which makes it difficult for me to gain weight. I have been gangly for most of my life and often called, even though only in jest, as being anorexic). This was until I read Tina Chanter’s article Abjection, Death and Difficult Reasoning: The Impossibility of Naming Chora in Kristeva and Derrida. The relevant bits, from the point of view of this article, are the ones where she explains the abject (meaning: the state of being cast away, degraded. Something rejected by the system but has the potential to disturb the system) and sheds new light on eating disorders that must force us to reevaluate our responsibility towards those who suffer because of society’s twisted ideals. You must excuse me while I indulge myself by quoting from this beautiful piece,
[Abject is] Not one that plays by the rules of the game, but one that refuses the terms: a refusal, a no, a silent scream, an impasse, and in this sense a “safeguard” (PH: 2). Here is where reality is turned down, turned away, shattered: “a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me” (PH: 2), so instead, I annihilate it, at least for a time–and by the same stroke, I annihilate myself, taking on the impossible by destroying myself. For it is something that I cannot take on, cannot bear, cannot submit myself to, and yet I cannot overcome it. I become it, yes, I embrace the abject, abjecting myself, but I do not control or conquer it. I rewrite the rules–precisely by abhoring them, ignoring them, paying them no heed, being unable to abide by them, seeing their impossiblity. I demolish the rules in order to reform reality, to re-structure the world. I erase all the supporting structures in order to have to start again from the beginning, building up again from the start, piece by weary piece. And in the process, I punish myself–and any others who happen to get in the way might be casualties of my own self-denigration. …
My vomiting protects me, my gagging prevents me from being taken in, subsumed by the system, depended on, stops me becoming a part of the machine, interrupts the well-being and equanimity of everybody. Stops everybody short. You cannot merely go on, in the face of abjection. I will make myself a mess, I will mess up the system, I will infect you with the impossibility you have demanded of me, and which I cannot be, and I will turn it into another kind of impossibility. You have produced a system that is intolerable, and I have introduced the intolerable back into the system, thrown it back as impossible, taken on the impossibility you ask of me, the unbearable and the intolerable, I have become it. I have taken on what cannot be taken on, I have been transformed by something, I have become inhuman. I am not me. This is what was required of me, not to be me, and yet in becoming not me, I have upset the system that asked me not to be me. For I am not the objectified object that was required, I am no longer subject, but neither am I object. I have defied these categories, I have misaligned the categories, I have thrown a spanner in the works. Usually through some kind of bodily incursion–whether I impose my body on the world, or allow the world to cut up my body, or refuse, using my body as an instrument of denial, the world, or reduce the world to the bodies of others–my body is all that is left. I become nothing but my body, my mind all but gone, used up, and using up other peoples’ bodies, other peoples’ minds. And soon even my body is nothing, wasting away.
It is the system, the society that demanded them to not be themselves. At each street corner, with each new hoarding, each new shop it taunted them to change themselves to fit the bill of beauty. You must look thin and in a certain way to qualify as desirable and no, none of your qualifications matter if you are not desirable. We view those with eating disorders as damaged because we think they were weak and fragile and they broke under pressure from the outside world. We refuse to investigate the amount of pressure applied on them. They starve and binge and purge to get accepted by the world and maybe to destroy the world. They take the grotesque of the world and make themselves so grotesque that the world cringes. They make spectacles out of themselves not because they seek attention but because that is what was done to them.
On one hand society wants everyone to conform to its opinion on everything and on the other hand they pity those who internalise its views.
The system shamelessly says ‘maybe she is born with it, maybe she is a result of beauty products’ implying if you are not born a certain way, with lips arched at certain angles and don’t have thick black lashes, you are ugly. And you must change it. You are ugly and an eyesore. You must pluck and trim and change yourself, go back to looking boyish or better yet like the hairless infant so that we can take care of you. You need to follow the beauty norms set by the society, you cannot perceive yourself to be beautiful, and you mustn’t. And then when someone who tries so hard to fit in the beauty standard is called artificial and shallow. It wants them to plaster themselves with makeup and yet not too caked up that it shows.
We live in a world that functions on absolutes, on definitives. We are trained to believe in what is right and the only way to know the right is to know the wrong. Often the difference between the concepts of right and wrong is a thin line, and oftener than not it is blurred. In a nut shell, we continue to live and fervently believe in the concepts and Truth laying our foundation on blurred lines. With such a weak foundation what right we have to judge—condemn or condone anything? How does the system expect to save them from themselves while it was the system in the first place who sowed the damaging seeds that rot them from within, turning them against themselves? And how can it accuse and condemn, point finger of blame at the victims without taking responsibility of what it has done?