(Originally posted on The Judgment of Paris Forum, January 7th, 2004.)
While our own press corps appears to have nothing better to do with its time than mount a daily campaign to burden the public with as much guilt as possible over the natural process of food consumption, the media in the rest of the world is taking the first steps toward liberating women from curve-o-phobic tyranny.
As a case in point, here is a rather encouraging article that we recently obtained from The Times of London, dated December 2, 2003:
THIN TIMES ARE OVER FOR ELLE'S BELLES
By Charles Bremner in Paris
Curvier women are hailed for ending 'dictatorship' by unhappy skinnies
THERE was good news for heavier French women yesterday when Elle, the self-styled weekly magazine for thinking Parisiennes, decreed thinness to be unfashionable and hailed the coronation of the "round, guitar-shaped" figure.
However, women from beyond France's strict canons of beauty should not cheer too quickly. The magazine's idea of glamorous, fatter woman included Britney Spears, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jennifer Lopez. Carre Otis, an American model, was featured on the front cover as an example of the new fatness.
Under the headline "I am round and I like it", Elle noted the return of curves in models, actresses and other supposed role models. Even Kate Moss, the archetype of skinny glamour, had put on a few kilos, it said. The "dictatorship of thinness" appears to be crumbling, Elle said. "It is time to celebrate the return of the curve, the return of la rondeur, in a world that is too hard, too square and too abrupt."
Scientific experts backed up the magazine's thesis that larger women felt happier and enjoyed better sex lives.
"We are coming to realise the tyranny of the long, stiff and bony silhouette is folly and that it says nothing good about the health of society," Annie Hubert, an anthropologist at the CNRS, the main state research institute, said. This dictatorship of thinness meant that only 14 per cent of French women felt good about their bodies, according to a recent CNRS survey, she said.
In addition, 65 per cent of French women wanted to lose weight although they fell below the height-weight ratio of 25. According to the international measure (weight divided by the square of height), a person is considered overweight after 25. Mme Hubert said that too many Frenchwomen were still striving for weight ratios of 17.5, equivalent to that of the anorexic model look.
Pierre Dukan, a nutritionist, said that dieting Frenchwomen must realise that men were programmed by evolution to be attracted to females with "breasts, fat on the hips and thighs and a little cushion under the navel -- all the elements which women try to get rid of. For a man, les rondeurs of a woman with a 'guitar-shaped body' are an encouragement to enter into visual, tactile and sexual contact."
Like their sisters everywhere in the Western world, Frenchwomen have been growing taller and heavier in recent decades, although by nowhere near American and British proportions. Laetitia Casta, the Corsican-born actress who was chosen in 2000 to represent Marianne, the symbol of the Republic, boasts a figure that would be at home in a 19th-century painting. Sophie Dahl, the British model, made a splash in France two years ago when she was picked by Yves St Laurent perfumes to model the Opium line . . .
Obviously, the Elle article exhibits notable weaknesses. Gabrielle Tabler's vision of a size-16 Britney Spears look-a-like may have possessed rondeur, but the real Britney Spears does not. Catherine Zeta-Jones was gorgeously ronde when she gained weight and became the most beautiful pregnant woman of all time, but her curves have diminished considerably since then. Jennifer Lopez is merely the faintest echo of a true gordita. Kate Moss plus "a few kilos" might climb all the way up to a size 0 instead of a size -2. And so forth.
However, what is more significant about the Elle article is how it parallels the thinking of this Web site. Note how Elle links the "return of the curve" in feminine beauty with a broader aesthetic movement, observing that the "dictatorship of thinness" is the product of "a world that is too hard, too square and too abrupt."
Note also the highly significant appeal to essentialism that the article makes in its observation that "men were programmed by evolution to be attracted to females with 'breasts, fat on the hips and thighs and a little cushion under the navel.'" Assertions of this kind remain rather incendiary in cultural circles, especially in the country that gave birth to modern Critical Theory, which is predicated on the absence of any human essence whatsoever. (Derrida would be mortified.)
But perhaps what American readers will find most provocative is article's equation of curves with happiness and with health. Our domestic media fans the flames of weight hysteria by continually restoring to health-associated scare tactics, but this article turns that stratagem on its head in asserting that the "long, stiff and bony silhouette is folly and that it says nothing good about the health of society."
Although to some ears, assertions such as these may still sound radical, what we have here is a harbinger of things to come. And despite the article's reliance on faux-plus celebrities to support its claims, the truth is that the days of cultural hegemony are over for the "unhappy skinnies"--and for the "hard," "square," and "abrupt" world of which they are a living expression.
They just haven't realized it--yet.
Test image of English rose Anita (Hughes, London)--a size 16 by the American measure: