Class Notes Thursday 10/24

Wrapping up discussion about understanding anorexia:

  • there was a change in classification (cessation of periods no longer required for diagnosis)
  • at what point is anorexia a lifestyle choice?
    • even if we are trying to help or provide medical care, we may be infringing upon someone’s identity
    • body policing vs. caretaking

Initial reactions to and questions about Naomi Wolf’s first three chapters of The Beauty Myth:

  • need to address products that are aimed to women (gendered marketing)
    • example of pink, cushioned pens for women
    • idea of the “vagina tax”
    • products catered to women cost more and increase women’s overall spending
  • in an industrialized society, how do women themselves constitute currency?
  • how do we address the double-bind of what to wear to a job interview?
    • women have to conform to prominent beauty ideals, but can’t be “too pretty” either
  • why is the beauty myth a necessary fiction?
    • women represent a potentially disabling immigrant group in a patriarchal system
    • idea of “beauty backlash” due to the gains that women have made
  • how did we get here/why is the beauty myth so important today?
    • after the Industrial Revolution, the work of the family was broken up
      • beauty was a way of keeping women occupied with domesticity
    • there were more resources, people were more literate, and there were smaller families
      • as wealth increased, things like mirrors became more accesible
      • new standards of assessing one’s value developed
    • beauty became the new currency in marriage (see Wolf p. 14)
  • how do we avoid blaming victims of the beauty myth for upholding it?
    • the beauty myth “tires women out” (p. 53)
    • fatigue is primary problem in preventing women from gaining power
    • “PBQ [professional beauty qualificaition] may ultimately manage what direct discrimination cannot achieve” (p. 53)
      • leisure is a radical notion, because it provides women the opportunity to educate themselves, band together and resist
    • the beauty myth actually functions as a kind of “third shift for women”, added to their time while they already generally work twice as much as men
  • the beauty myth limits women’s conception of their potential
    • unrealistic images of beauty cause women to see their options as limited
      • women not only have to deconstruct these images but also invent new, alternative models for themeslves
      • idea presented in Miss Representation: “if you can’t see it you can’t be it”
    • keeps women materially and psychologically poor as they are in constant comparison to these images

Reflections on Wolf’s section “Work” in The Beauty Myth:

  • “The PBQ teaches women visually that they must yield power at the same pace at which men gain it” (p.54)
    • reflects the feminization of poverty
  • for the first time, women in the U.S. are expected to live shorter lives than their mothers, which is typical for countries enduring war
    • why is this happening/what kind of toll are we taking on women in an industrialized society?
  • women lose PBQ as they get older, which makes it inevitably harder to confront the aformentioned yield of power to men
    • women have to make the choice between career advancement and family, since they have a “biological clock” that men do not; this is one of the reasons they are more likely to leave the workforce
    • what would change if women didn’t have kids?
    • the U.S. doesn’t have paid, federally mandated family leave–this reflects the above bolded quote since women tend to have to give up more career-wise as they get older
    • what kind of pressure do older women in respected positions feel?
      • they aren’t likely to receive empathy or be paid higher unless male CEOs have female children; people need to feel closer to the problem
  • Our conclusion: PBQ keeps women isolated when they need to build coalition and alliances, and women use their bodies for economic control (beauty bias)
    • women have more power collectively
    • the future for unions is female, and the solution to the feminization of poverty
    • collective effort recognizes that the the effects of the beauty ideal are not personal hurdles by structural shortcomings

Reflections on Susan Bordo’s “Reading the Slender Body” chapter within Unbearable Weight:

Intro Section:

  • controlling hunger and consumption went from a practice of the privileged few to a practice for everyone after the rise of the bourgois
  • this kind of control used to imply a mastery of soul and now reflects a less “elitist” mastery of the physical body
  • a prime example of the presence of body self-discipline is in TV shows that depict cosmetic surgeries
    • people watch these shows for a reasons–they embody common fears of the body or lack of control or conformity
    • these shows also perpetuate the idea that exterme practices of body self-discipline are otuside of the norm
  • the social body is representative of the management of desire

Contemporary Anxiety and the Enemy Flab:

  • contemporary ads reveal that weight is not the issue, untamed bulgues are (boys mocked a model who was skinny but had an inevitable bulge of fat around her hip)
    • this can be compared to contemporary use of saran wrap, spanx, or even the tight black dresses people wear when going out (desire to contain)
  • modern society has moved from a skinny ideal to the idea that “flab is bad” and that people should have smooth skin
    • the ideal body is contained
  • “the ideal here is of a body that is absolutely tight, contained, ‘bolted down,’ firm: in other words, a body that is protected from eurption from within, whose internal processes are under control” (p. 190)
    • new focus on “pathology”
    • why does flab borhter us?
    • images of the erupting body (example of 90s movements); these images are representative of social anxiety
    • we need to be tightly managed
  • at the same time, females are *still* caught in a double-bind
    • if you become too tightly contained, you border again on excess
      • example of a female bodybuilder (tightly contained, but excess muscle)

Slenderness and the Inner State of the Self:

  • what is considered beautiful has historical changability
    • excess weight used to represent wealth, but in a modern culture of overabundance, being “tightly contained” is a demonstration of personal will and success
  • muscles have also changed in regard to a beauty ideal
    • due to racial and class biases, muscles used to be seen as animalistic or uncultured
    • now muscles are a “symvol of correct attitude” or carefully managed sexuality
    • example of America’s Next Top Model: models can’t just be skinny, they have to be fit and able to move in certain ways or they will not suceed in the show
  • social mobility now has more prominence than social location
    • idea of the “quest myth”
    • one can change their situation by demonstrating self-control and a desire to become beauitful

Slenderness and the Social Body:

  • the body is a reflection of one’s social situation (culture)
  • we exist in a double-bind; within our consumer culture we are constantly confronted with temptation but cultural enforcements also tell us we must exercise control over ourselves
    • this double-bind is embodied in the bulimic
  • how do we address anorexia and obesity differently from bulimia?
    • represent the extremes rather than the double-bind
    • anorexics have pride in control, but embarassment of their skeletal bodies
    • embody the idea that the only have to have control over powers is to deny them or give into them
  • how do we deal with the concept that no one wants to be the “perfect” anorexic?
    • inevitably this would lead to death
    • anorexia (and perfection) leads to its own undoing
  • why are people “afraid” of obese people?
    • obesity emdoies what society fears (lack of control)
    • one of the few remaining socially acceptable forms of bigotry
    • our limited view of acceptable bodies is even reflected in the narrow construction of furniture which is not comfortable for all bodies
    • why don’t we acknowledge the diversity of bodies?

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