We have heard all the arguments before; from those who laud the lithe and those who celebrate curves, from those who feel striving for ‘thinness’ is empowering and those who feel it is an unfair oppression we endure due to a male-dominated society. So fat is and was, apparently, always a feminist issue. No doubt it is predominantly a feminine issue, but allowing all that to monopolise the argument would simplify it unforgivably, in my opinion. It is a fact well documented that, psychologically, women are more predisposed to seeking to improve themselves to achieve their goals rather than trying to change situations around them, mainly because they have only recently come to be able to influence their situations in a considerable way. Women pander to the ideal of beauty the way men seek wealth and power. Just consider what comes to your mind when one talks of a woman’s assets as opposed to a man’s. I bet it does not involve stocks and shares.
As someone who has ranged from slightly overweight to slightly underweight and back, I can safely say that there is no shortage of appreciation for either end of the scale, which if you ask around is a fact not unknown. Allowing for the cachet of personal taste, most men will often gladly affirm it. Even the carb curbers, calorie crazies and fitness fanatics will admit it. So why has has their weight distressed entire generations of women? What deep seated ideology of hetero-masculine sexuality has invaded our collective psyche and so fundamentally damaged the way women evaluate themselves and each other?
Examining the way women have been represented in art across the ages it’s difficult not to note that Aphrodite and Venus have always been represented as voluptuously curvy temptresses; the Mary Mother of God, however, remains a slender eternal virgin. In Victorian England the puritan morality of the time effectively plunged women into a sexual austerity. This led to a documented epidemic of anorexia sweeping through the upper echelons of society as the women attempted to make themselves look as innocent, child-like and virtuous i.e. asexual as possible. However, while these paragons of purity may have been snagging themselves husbands in the 1800s, the men of the era were sponsoring an unprecedented boom in prostitution throughout Europe. London police alone registered 70’000 prostitutes in 1850- we could confidently triple the figure when considering how many never came into contact with the ‘beaks’- out of a population between 1-1.5 million. These women were no infantilised virtuosos. Victorian prostitutes were famously buxom, robust and willing to cater to any fetish.
As women’s roles changed in society and sexual liberation took effect, role models more openly appealed to the latter aspect of the dichotomised sexuality of hetero men. The term ‘IT-girl’ was invented in the 20s for the actresses of the time, particularly Clara Bow, ‘IT’ of course substituting ‘sex’. These public figures were sultry, curvy and feisty, which by association meant naughty. Wink wink. The view culminated in one of the greatest sex symbols of all time, Marilyn Monroe, the true mistress of the maximised assets. Compare her flaming sex appeal with the dainty, doe eyed beauty of her counterpart, Audrey Hepburn. It is clear who is the bigger IT-girl (pun not intended). It seems that a few spare kilos can subconsciously signal the ability to let go, to enjoy yourself and have an appetite for pleasure in life, as opposed to practicing self control and restriction in all things.
So, slender doesn’t always mean stunning and yet you’d be extremely hard pressed to find a female who wouldn’t happily drop at least a few pounds, no matter what her size. It seems to me that, despite male protestations, this is simply another way for women to attempt to pander to their tastes, a taste that, according to Freud, has always contained a duality; the Madonna Whore Complex or, to quote Usher for a pop culture definition, the desire for ‘a lady in the streets and a freak in the bed’. This may explain the constant dissatisfaction many women experience with their bodies; subconsciously they are conflicted about what they would like others to read in their measurements. What should they inspire: love or lust?
Women, it’s time to remind ourselves that while Freud may have found a dichotomy in heterosexual males’ fantasies, every woman is not only Madonna and Whore, but much more.Leave a Comment