fingerlakeswanderer

fingerlakeswanderer
Birthday
May 09
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cassandra
Bio
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.

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MAY 18, 2009 5:20PM

Fuckability--Part II of Discussion of Appetites--please join

Rate: 30 Flag

 Hyblaean and I continue to discuss--one chapter at a time--Caroline Knapp's book Appetites:  Why Women Want. Earlier posts related to this can be found Part I and Original Post

So, grab your favourite beverage and sit a spell. Let's see if we can make sense of this shit. 

  b39639629

 Chapter 1: "Add Cake, Subtract Self-Esteem: Anxiety and the Mathematics of Desire." from Caroline Knapp, Appetites.

While it may seem that Knapp is primarily interested in issues of food and hunger, Appetites  will expand to look at female desire in several different spheres. Chapter one, however, is about food, and so what follows are Knapps's words in italics, with my comments marked "lb." Hyblaean will also distinguish her remarks by putting them in bold.

Once again, I'll present a brief synopsis of the chapter, our reactions, and then ask you all to join us in a discussion of this book.

(And not to make excuses, but I'll just say I'm dizzy as hell from a cluster headache and the meds I took to control it, so who knows what may come out of my unfiltered fingertips?)

Knapp. Pg. 23
Disorders of appetite—food addictions, compulsive shopping, promiscuous sex—have a kind of semiotic brilliance, expressing in symbol and metaphor what women themselves may not be able to express in words, and I can deconstruct anorexia with the best of them. Anorexia is a response to cultural images of the female body—waiflike, angular—that both capitulates to the ideal and also mocks it, strips away all the ancillary signs of sexuality, strips away breasts and hips and butt and leaves in their place a garish caricature, a cruel cartoon of flesh and bone. It is a form of silent protest, a hunger strike that expresses some deep discomfort with the experience of inhabiting an adult female body…."
…."But what recedes into the background amid such explanations—and what's harder to talk about because it's intangible and stubborn and vast—is the core, the underlying drive, the sensation that not only made anorexia feel so seductively viable for me some two decades ago but that also informs the central experience of appetite for so many women, the first feeling we bring to the table of hunger: anxiety, a sense of being overwhelmed.
There is a particular whir of agitation about female hunger, a low-level thrumming of shoulds and shouldn'ts and can't and wants that can be so chronic and familiar it becomes a kind of feminine Muzak, easy to dismiss, or to tune out altogether, even if you're actively participating in it."


LB: I can't balance my checkbook. Strike that. I probably could balance my checkbook if it struck me as important enough to know—to the dime—exactly how much money I have in my checking account at any one time. Instead, I've developed this rough idea system—I check the online bank statement every day—and then I project from there based on expenditures and bills and the occasional deposit.


System doesn't work perfectly. I've overdrawn my account more than once. And I've had more than one occasion why I think the bank and I are a couple hundreds' of dollars off in our calculations. Because Rob is slowly training me to write down what I spend, I'm beginning to get a handle on my finances. That's part of our plan this year—the year of living frugally—so that we may pursue some dreams next year.


What's funny, however, is that I keep a running total—at almost all times—of how many calories I've eaten in a day. My goal number is somewhere between 1200-1500 calories a day. I'm a small person, so I don't get to eat a lot of calories, and you start realizing how careful you need to be when you figure out that a hamburger and French fries at some restaurants come in at over a thousand calories. My day's allotment all in one fell swoop.


For a while, I cheated. If I wanted something sweet, or a second helping of food, or something that pushed me over the number, I cold resort to barfing. That way, I got to enjoy the taste of the food, but I didn't have to worry about it being caloric. Of course, we all know that being bulimic is dangerous—damages so many different parts of your body—but I didn't care for a long time because I could get away with it. It was guilt-free eating. And the only person I was hurting was myself.


I've once again managed to put the bulimia in the closet. I've been "clean" for several weeks now. But it's not quiet in my head. Almost from the moment I get up, I'm anxious. Anxious to go get some exercise. Or anxious about how much I'm eating. I've been this way for months now. Ever since I started gaining weight from the various meds I was on, I have felt a return to my "out of control" days. Staying thin requires discipline—either daily exercise or a tight control of what I allow myself to eat—and because of my migraines/cluster headaches, I haven't been doing a very good job of monitoring anything.


My reflection shows it. I look round. I try to tell myself I'm voluptuous and soft and feminine. But what I see is weakness and laziness and someone who doesn't deserve to enjoy eating. To enjoy eating, you have to earn it. If I want to eat a big dinner, I better have gotten some serious exercise during the day, and if I didn't exercise, then I need to practice discipline when it comes to dinner and snacks.


I know how harsh I sound. I sound like some stern little taskmistress, and believe me, if this person spoke this way to a friend of mine, or to my daughters, I would kick her fucking ass. But for some reason that I still cannot explain, I stay in this abusive relationship with the fat monitor.

In describing a group of her (highly successful) friends, she notes:
The caveats had to do with rules, with attitudes as ingrained as reflexes, and with a particularly female sense of justified reward: They are at the center of this whir, an anxious jingle of mandate and restraint.


Why do we put ourselves through this? Why do so many of us—already juggling children, relationships, careers, avocations, errands, volunteer work, political activism—why do we devote even a moment of our day to the devil's arithmetic ( as I refer to it? If I really want that slice of chocolate cake, I will need to walk for 90 minutes, and I'll wipe out any weight loss benefit from walking, I'll really just break even and I am trying to lose weight so even though I have been moving all weekend and went for a five-mile walk, I'm still not entitled to that slice of cake. This is the kind of devil's arithmetic I'm talking about).


It's not because we're shallow. That's just such a dismissive way of not having to deal with body image issues that affect men and women. As my therapist used to say, certain issues are "taproots." It takes years and years to dig them out, and so many things grow off them. Certainly my relationship to food if big, but it’s not the taproot. Perhaps this is:
Mastery over the body—its impulses, its needs, its size—is paramount; to lose control is to risk beauty, and to risk beauty is to risk desirability, and to risk desirability is to risk entitlement to sexuality and love and self-esteem. Desires collide, the wish to eat bumping up against the wish to be thin, the desire to indulge conflicting with the injunction to restrain."


"A controlled appetite, prerequisite for slenderness, connotes beauty, desirability, worthiness. An uncontrolled appetite—a fat woman—connotes the opposite, she is ugly, repulsive, and so fundamentally unworthy that, according to a New York Times report on cultural attitudes toward fat, sixteen percent of adults would choose to abort a child if they knew he or she would be untreatably obese.

Okay, I've been quoting from the chapter a lot, because I'm really trying to present a lot of different aspects of Knapp's argument. Here's the last bit I'll quote ( even thought there's a ton more to talk about).


Freedom, it is important to note, is not the same as power; the ability to make choices can feel unsettling and impermanent and thin if it's not girded somehow with the heft of real economic and political strength. …By all accounts, we ought to feel powerful, competent, and strong—and many women no doubt do, at least in some areas and at some times…

 But it's also true that an overwhelming majority of women—estimates range from eighty to eighty-nine percent—wake up every morning aware of an anxious stirring of self-disgust, fixated on the feel of our thighs as we pull up our stockings, the feel of our bellies and hips as we zip up our pants and skirts. Women are three times as men to feel negatively about their bodies. .. but the sheer numbers, which indicate an unprecedented depth and breadth of anxiety about appearance in general and weight in particular, suggest that something more complex than imagery is at work, that our collective sense of power and competence and strength hasn't quite made it to the visceral level."

Last summer, Rob and I climbed to the top of a small mountain range in Montana. As I stood there at 8400 feet, having climbed the trail at a steady pace, I took pleasure in the power of my body. I have been stunned by my body's abilities: I grew two children inside me. Inside my body is my brain, my brain that has allowed me to accomplish things that I am proud of.

But, despite my happiness, my pride in my accomplishments, my love for other people and their love for me, my acceptance that I'm 46, my body is moving toward slowing down and eventually dying—I still sit on this couch and I can tell I'm fat by the way my thighs feel beneath me. I can touch certain parts of my body and they're my touchstones—if they're taut beneath my fingertips, I'm in good shape and pass for the day. But if they feel flabby, then the first thought that comes is that I'm a worthless piece of shit. Even if the second thought (after years of therapy) is to not beat myself up, to stop the tape, to embrace me. I'm terrified—not of getting old and dying—that doesn't scare me a whit. What scares me is that I will no longer be sexually attractive.

Staying thin allows me to put on my little red dresses or my little black dresses and my stiletto heels and play dress-up. I like that I can walk into a room when I'm in good shape and wearing the right thing and feel eyes turn toward me. I like that. If I'm feeling like a schlub, then I'm invisible.
If I reach an age or a shape where a man no longer wants to fuck me, what am I going to do? That terrifies me.
Stephanie_COMBO
Somehow, if I control food, perhaps I can control enough of the aging process that I'm still fuckable.

Jesus. I sound pathetic. I'm not, though. It's just that when I get really honest with myself about my relationship with food, it really is about whether I'm fuckable. And how I'm desperately afraid that there's some magic number on the scale that I will hit where no one will want me anymore.

 

 

HYBLAEAN: I think the cultural message to women to limit their physical space is interesting, especially since the opposite message is given to men. I don’t think it’s a comment on our role in society; it seems to me to be more a reflection on secondary sexual characteristics. Although it is interesting to note, that the higher up you go in class, the more emphasis is put on female weight, which would be cultural.

She talks explicatively about the male/female difference in value to our culture and I appreciated it, but wondered (briefly) if she wasn’t alienating her male audience. This made me laugh, because I was surprised that was where my head immediately went. Sigh.

She wrote a paragraph about the difference in expectations, and allowances for ambition, between Hillary and Bill Clinton that rang true to me. I’d wanted Hillary to go in the ring back in the early 2000’s, but when she actually did I thought to myself “you know I just wish it were another woman, she’s too aggressive, and she doesn’t really represent us.” That quickly passed when I saw what she had to go through with the press. I became (perhaps vehemently) of the opposite opinion that she was the perfect person for the job. Who else could put up with what was being thrown at Hillary? Who the heck else would want it that bad? "shrill, nagging, hysterical, over-emotional, bitchy, emasculating" all were used to describe Hillary (by women and men) as an attempt to get people to see her as her negative female stereotype and not as a person who had done much in her own right and was worthy to have the ambition of trying for the presidency.


The author went on to describe how some women deal with success. (They clam up, and feel compelled to hide it) She’s right, but I’m not sure if women don’t have the best strategy there. No one likes a braggart- male or female. No one really likes others that they see as being successful, there is a large amount of jealousy in the human psyche) Women may be taught to hush about their successes early in life, but that’s not an all bad thing. Our focusing on the other’s successes and making other people feel good about their successes over honoring our own, may have stemmed from being the weaker member of society initially, but I do see it as a strength. That, or it could be that I’m just completely brainwashed- how do I know?


I loved the concept of “the tyranny of freedom” and wanted to hear what other’s thought about it.


The comment on the successful woman losing 10lbs and getting complimented by all her friends, for that as opposed to her book deal or other material successes made me feel funny. All I could think of was you know it shouldn’t really be about either, right? But, I guess she doesn’t, and the author doesn’t, and we aren’t to either.

 

Photos taken from This is Who I Am: Our beauty in all shapes and sizes by Roanne Olson, (2008: Artisan Press)

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I'm really enjoying the book club vicariously, you guys. Thanks.
I was trying to think of something pithy or clever to say but really, what it distills down to is that fuckability boils down to is attitude, not weight. I believe most women can be alluring and desirable if they (honestly) exude these feelings to their target audience. THATs the turn-on.
The thing that makes me most crazy about the issues under discussion is that rationally, I understand them. I get them. I, too, could spin out some jargon-laded spiel about the male gaze and female desire and desirability and food and how food is used to replace love and all that stuff. I really could. And I can be the good feminist I am and tell myself that it doesn't matter how much I weight, and I can get all of it. In my head. And maybe 50 percent of the time, I'm at peace, because my head and my heart are grooving on the same wavelength and I'm understanding that I may be conscious of the fact that I've gained 2 pounds, but not only does no one else in the world give a shit, but if I really want to start waling on myself, I can acknowledge that there are much greater issues in the world than whether i'll allow myself a handful of french fries at dinner.
Which is why this stuff makes me nuts. Just imagine what my life (maybe your life, too) would be like if some portion of my brain was not devoted to being the constant dining hall monitor. I fantasize about letting go of all of it, and each time I do, I suddenly picture myself enormously overweight, and I can't imagine being happy at that place.
If only I could have the thousands of hours I've spent thinking about food back. What might I have created?
hyblaean--
What do you think that Knapp means by "the tyranny of freedom?"
Let me just quote out of the book, since she does a perfect job summing this: "Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, has written about what he calls "the tyranny of freedom," arguing that the sheer volume of choices in American life has come to feel oppressive and overwhelming; the proliferation ratchets up exceptions and anxieties (there's always something better around the corner) and overloads the psyche.

I feel that all the time, and wanted to know if others did as well- and if yes, how it shows up in the small and large aspects of their life.
This was interesting and well-said.
Again, kewl discussion. After thinking a bit, I must admit that I, too, feel pretty worthless if I am not fuckable. The weird thing for me to wrap my head around is that even though I am lesbian, there is something inside me that says I absolutely *must* remain attractive to MEN. So that leads me to believe that it is something innate, not cultural. After all, there is such a thing as lesbian culture and feminist culture, and nothing about either of those has anything to do with pleasing men.

And yet I still want to remain attractive to men.

And with every pound I gain, I lose a pound of self-esteem. If I feel fat, I do not feel like a woman. I don't feel sexual, I don't feel feminine, I don't feel worthwhile to my mate.

I am educated, with multiple advanced degrees. I am intelligent. I am professionally successful in a male-dominated profession. I am a good and moral person. I love my partner and am loved in return. I treat people well. I look out for the well-being of others. I am kind. I am responsible. I have run 15 marathons. I became a scuba instructor. I can pilot a sailboat a thousand miles all by myself. I can cook, and crochet, and play the piano, and even program the TV remote.

And yet, none of that matters if I feel fat. If I feel fat, I feel unfuckable, and therefore worthless.

Shallow, yes, yes, yes, I know, but . . . even at my advanced age I place a good portion of my self-esteem on being able to turn every head when I walk into a room. I know this is a battle I must ultimately lose -- and what will I do then? -- but I continue to wage it with fury; for now, at least. Why is that important to me? I don't give a flying fuck about attracting a man. So why do I care?

I am not bulimic or anorexic, but I easily could be if I would only let myself give-in to it. (I was friends with Karen Carpenter, so I never will go that far, no matter what.) But something deep inside still tells me that if I am not fuckable then all I am signifies nothing.

And I hate it.

And I know that when I leave my office today, a man riding in the elevator with me will desire me.

And I love it.

It just goes to prove that God is a comedian, who is playing to an audience that doesn't get the joke and is afraid to laugh.
I sometimes think it might be easier and more honest as far as society's expectations to go back to corsets. Women are no longer required to wear such garments -- instead they must restrict calorie intake and exercise much in order to have the waist a corset would create. The corset is no longer material but emotional.

Men do associate sexual allure in women with being thin. Quite often even the most unattractive and heavy of men will believe in his heart of hearts that his true match in the world is the current supermodel favorite. Quite frankly this pisses me off.

There are many male OS writers whom I admire and like a great deal but some can at times post the most boneheaded and insulting posts about men's sexual desire being associated with being with the most attractive female partner possible and taking on the least emotional commitment. I no longer read those posts. There are a few female writers who have posted similar sentiments and that pisses me off more. I just no longer read anything they write if they cannot be gracious to women of their own gender who struggle with self esteem issues anyway.

I did not get the pain that other women went through as far as weight until I was in my 30s. Before having children I rarely weighed more than 120 pounds and wore a size 6/4 without making any effort whatsoever. I once had a roommate who was an aerobics instructor and it pissed her off to no end that I slept a lot and lived on cheese dip and margaritas but was still little. I am always one size larger on top. I had no trouble finding sexual partners then due to being single and the desirable size.

After having children, menopause brought on by chemotherapy, weight gain caused by steroids given with chemotherapy, and just less energy to exercise I have to realize that through exercise and reduced calories I could shoot for being a 10/8. That is what I'm working on this summer. And not just to have more allure because that scares me and that is not really an odd reaction for a cancer survivor whose body has been altered.

I tell myself that I am doing this to be more healthy and feel better about me. This may be true but in all honesty I would also like to be closer to the ideal that others find attractive. Again it pisses me off that there is really no way to avoid coming to terms in some way with that ideal.
I hypothesize there is a direct correlation between your constant math on your calories and your lack of interest in your checking account balance. If so much energy wasn't being spent on calories/exercise/denial, personal finance wouldn't be such a big deal. [Financier Suze Orman actually discusses this a lot in her books].
Also, I have noticed in my extended family and outside of it: women tend to go a bit crazy when their daughters hit puberty. I think it's that fear lb is discussing, what will happen when no man wants them? vs. every man now wanting their daughter. Rated.
:) I appreciate the responses and people putting their views and experiences out there
Phaedo,
I absolutely see weight and class as linked in this culture. Back in the 1500s, for example, voluptuous, well-nourished women were considered sexy because those women did not have to work, and they had plenty to eat, and they were obviously upper class. Today, upper class women can spend six hours a day working out. Working women work. And eat what they can. And it's not suprising to me that these class issues continue to play out.

My fear of fat is not because I find fat repugnant. It has to do with messages I grew up with in my household--I was specifically lectured about never letting myself get fat. It was a constant topic of conversation. I came to believe that if I got fat, I would not be loved within my family. It's not surprising to me that some of those same attitudes have been carried into my sexual relationships. As I said, self-awareness is there, but the letting go has not happened yet.

Your insights into this astute--power, looks, "fuckability"--all of it like some stupid Gordian knot. I deliberately used the term "fuckability" in the title in hopes of drawing more readers, but it's a degrading term, reducing people to such a concept. And yet, I see it every day. On t.v. In discussions I overhear among my students. In movies. In literature. An attractive woman still seen as a fetish object, something to hang on your arm signifying that you have enough power (wealth or whatever) that you can 'afford' to purchaser the affection of the beautiful object.

Of course, as women, we are participants in our own bad situation. I do what I can--I haven't bought a "woman's" magazine in years--those that are all about what you can do to get a man--but the television seems even more crowded with women competing for some limited resource (as if men are a limited resource. pshaw.)

I have never felt attractive. I just carry that around with me. But I claim my desire nonetheless. I'm sexual. I want to be sexual. I have to find the men who are not likely to spend all their time writing about their "hot" girlfriends, and rather find a companion who loves all of me. (so cliche. so true.) I've found him.
Dorinda,
I love your honesty. Again, I think of the fact that you've been engaged in a life or death struggle with cancer, and yet, weight is still on your mind.
Dana,
Fascinating. So, do you hold yourself to two different standards of beauty? One for men and one for women? Are they different?
Hurry summer. (not to self - read this)
Deborah,
What do you think the connection is between my disorganized money and my calorie counting? I think I might see the correlation but I'm interested in hearing what you think.
This is so interesting. Approaching my 61st birthday I know I am on the downward side of my life, but I absolutely refuse to think my attractiveness was over already, because even now I find it is my brain that determines whether I am thought of as being attractive enough to sleep with.

I have an attractive 38 year old who is chasing me...and not because of a lack of pretty young things, but because I am interesting, and unafraid. Who would have thought such a thing? I am curvier now, yet I can see flaws I hate...but I know other people don't see them like I do, so I tend to dismiss them now. Sure, I do work out, but more because I want to be the best I can be, no matter my age.

I look in the mirror and see things that remind me of my mother, and I shudder, yet that is life, and if I am going to waste it worrying about what I have absolutely no control over, I am wasting the days I do have left...no way will I let grass grow under my feet while I sit around and try to stay young, it won't happen. Let the grass grown on top of me when it is over, and not a minute sooner.

Life is way too short.

Rated
agreed, Buffy. Life is too short.
One thing that I wonder about is why this issue will disappear for a while from my life but then come back. Does this happen for other people? I keep thinking I've put this issue to bed, but then it creeps up again.
And right now it's especially ridiculous. My life is so fucking good--except for these intractable headaches. So why am I focusing on the size of my thighs?
And Lorraine, you are a size 2. Some of us are struggling to remain a size 10, even if a petite 10 (which is what I keep telling myself). I hate this. My mother, who lives in my backyard, always kept an eye on my weight. Always. She is still thin at 88 and cute to boot. She is trying to be kind now and says, "you are the weight you are supposed to be" but still compliments me when I lose weight, and at the worst financial nadirs, offers to pay for my gym membership. As far as men are concerned, most truly only care about young and thin women. To be young is to be thin most of the time, don't you know. So, this bullshit about being attracted to robust women is a crock, except for a cult of men who like women overweight.

I'm on the downhill slide now and am surrounded by women young and old that worry about their weight constantly, and not because of their health.

This whole obsession BY MEN ABOUT WOMEN should be a classified mental illness in the DSM.

I love these pictures of women with not only curves, with folds. I don't know a man I know that would be attracted to them.

denese
What an awesome thread - I am blown away by the intelligence, self-examination and honesty I see in these responses. I feel so privileged to be part of a conversation like this that includes the comments of such smart women. Phaedo, Dana, Dorinda - you really force the discussion to high ground with your willingness to be so open and vulnerable. I am filled with gratitude and admiration, just hanging around the edges of the conversation.

Dana, I am really surprised - but also sort of not - to hear you talking about being attractive to men. Surprising b/c you're a lesbian, but not surprised b/c you are a gorgeous woman, and the main measure of/reward for gorgeousness for women has always been male attention (and female envy?) So I get why such a desire to be desired would feel ingrained -but I think less by genes than by what the culture pounded into you from the moment you were born.

I get what you are saying, flw, about fuckability being tied to weight *despite* what you really feel. I have no personal disgust for fat. In fact, I'm quite drawn to strong smart fat women - it feels to me like they have figured out how to get out of the harness that society tries to put on women. They seem to have something figured out that I haven't been able to internalize as well. There are women here, on OS, who talk openly about their weight whom I'd number among my most admired women - I'll put EPriddy right there at the top. Woman makes some sense, fiercely. I've had a major 'be my friend please please' crush on her since she donned her metal toed boots and walked into my post during the beta days, the one that is still there entitled "Fat". And by the way, FLW, "Fat" was probably more provocative than "fuckability" for attracting an audience, that's how loaded the word has become.

But despite my personal feelings about fat on other people, I have a horror of it in on *me*. Interestingly, I don't seem to have a real definition of what it is on me - there is no weight where I say "ok, that's fat". It seems to be more a feeling, which sounds so effin neurotic and stupid which I HATE because I am NOT neurotic or the least bit stupid. I mean, WTF???

The message I got at home was loud, clear and frequent: my body was a dirty place. Men would want it, and they wouldn't care about *me*, especially if I gave them my body. I must keep my body attractive and pure at all times, and attractive meant, almost exclusively, thin. So, to recap: I must be thin and attractive to attract men who will want to inflict their uncontrollable sexual desires on me, and it is up to me to prevent them, and if I fail then my dirtiness will be on display for all to see, and I will be punished, not the man.

I once did a survey for a feminist studies class in college. When given the choice, 40% of the respondents said they'd chose to be raped over getting uncontrollably fat. 70% said they'd choose to be raped if it meant they could be thin for the rest of their lives. I found this almost too terrifying to contemplate, and ended up not focusing on that part of the survey in my paper - it was a subject that was too big for me, literally and emotionally. But I bet lots of you are reading this and thinking, it's not *that* surprising, those findings.

The whole morality of fat certainly gets more complex when you add age into the soup. I was getting at this a bit, obliquely, in my post about being afraid of menopause and becoming sexually irrelevant. Though Stellaa said something that was a nice cold slap in the face that has had me thinking every since - something to the effect, maybe you aren't supposed to be sexy, sexual, sexually relevant your whole life! Maybe there are other things as or more rewarding you get to focus on when you are freed from the tyranny of being fuckable!

Fuckability = prestige, and power. That's the equation my mind keeps coming back to.

Dorinda, I read your comment and wonder, is she talking about me? I wonder if I'm the only one. Which is less a comment toward/about you, and more a reflection of how women think about attractiveness - theirs, other women's, and how we discuss it, and what is 'allowed' and not.

In most species, the male worries about it's fuckability - the female peruses the suitors, secure in the knowledge she has what they want. It's 180 degrees different among humans. Why is that? Is it b/c in the early days of man, strength=survival? Did sexism evolve out of a legitimate biological imperative for the species? Here we are today, women totally capable of supporting themselves independently and protecting themselves from predators, even having children without a male partner. So why are we still working so hard to prove our fuckability to men and each other?
Depends on age. I cared alot even 10 years ago. I can take it or leave it now, which is incredibly freeing and empowering and peaceful. And believe me, I never thought that would happen. So I would say stop fearing and just relax. The men in my life have liked me within a swing of many pounds back and forth, and later, other things matter more, and the best ones, the fine ones, remain in your life.
denese,
I'm not a size 2 anymore. I'm bigger. I know it would sound ridiculous if I tell you the size, so I won't, because it's irrelevant. It's just fucking insanity, but on a bad day, I think that culture in general is designed to drive us all insane.
The book is gorgeous. I look at the photos all the time. Beautiful, naked women of all shapes and sizes, ethnicities, with paragraphs about their bodies. I don't know if men would find these women attractive.
But those women are real.
denese, you wrote "I love these pictures of women with not only curves, with folds. I don't know a man I know that would be attracted to them." Me to. And I fucking hate that and I'm not even sure why it makes me so *angry*. But it does.
Lorraine and Sandra I pretty much know I love yous.
I am so grateful for this discussion and for the honesty and courage of those who are posting.

@Phaedo - a special thank you and thumbs-up for your incisive and courageous post, and for bringing in issues of class and male privelege.

I keep trying to write the perfect comment and it is holding up my participation, so, I have decided to just jump in, finally. Please excuse the typos and the rambling that I probably won't control since this issue brings up so much for me.

I do not believe that any woman brought up in this country, lesbian, bi, or straight doesn't struggle with this issue. And it frightens me because it takes up so much of our energy and because the consequences are so catastrophic for so many of us. For a number of years, I was a sexuality/health educator with a program in which HIV+ speakers the center of an HIV prevention curriculum aimed at middle and high school students. When push came to shove, body issues were at the core of the risk-taking that lead many of our women speakers to become HIV+. My sister, who has one of the most powerful intellects I've ever encountered, has profound body image issues. I taught classes in sexuality for many years, classes in which I developed lessons on body image designed to develop in students an appreciation for a variety of body types, and I still have profound body image issues, even though on my best days I would like to believe that not to be true.

There is, of course, the question of why skinny is considered "more fuckable?" Having had male partners who find me attractive when I am fat and female partners who do not, I am tempted to believe that our private tastes are often much broader than are public ones, and that fat-phobia is not sexual-orientation dependent. At my heaviest, 213 lbs / 5'5", shortly after I truly broke with my woman partner of 14+ years and so was only looking for sex, I posted online as a BBW looking for "sexual friendships" and got 100 responses in less than 24 hours, all from men. I actually established some wonderful relationships with several of them, including two who were younger than I (one of these, I got serious about and is still in my life). More recently, I had a woman lover - my age - who had problems with my weight. In case anyone doesn't know, the code phrase on lesbian online dating sites for "no fatties need apply" is "must be fit." I have to say, that I am still smarting from this, even though I love women who are heavier, and I should know better. (I broke up with her for other reasons, but its the weight thing that really hurt.)

I think that an even more important question than "what is fuckable" is, "why is a woman's worth so based on her fuckability?" No matter how smart we are or how strong we are or what we achieve, it seems to me that our true worth is always related to how sexually attractive we are seen to be the larger society.

I have not always been heavy - a combination of life-long dieting, a horribly stiffling and emotionally abusive 14-year relationship, and a thyroid condition that grew out my being a vegan for 6 years all played their part. I have also not always been middle aged (duh!) I remember the time when I could walk into a room and command it without effort. Now, at age 52 and 185 pounds, I most often find myself sinking into invisibility, unless I "work it." It takes a measurable amount of calculated, targeted, disciplined, self-confident energy projection to "be seen" when I walk into a room. I know and feel the difference.

With the exception of kinky folk I feel it whenever I find myself in a new group of people, and I miss the power I had when I was younger and "more fuckable" in a traditional sense. It is something I mourn, and it is a loss that most men will never, ever be able to understand. The great irony is that not only do I like myself a great deal more at this age, but I also have so much more to offer, intellectually, personally, spiritually and even sexually, than I did in my "fuckable" twenties and thirties.

In the Wizard of Oz, Glenda the Good is young and "beautiful." The wicked witch of the west is old and "ugly." Growing up we were all made to fear women's power, especially when it was associated with older women. We were taught to be afraid of the "hag," which in its original meaning was used to refer to an older wise woman, or one with prophetic and oracular powers.

Last comment for this round - loved the photos. Reminded me of the photo series Leonard Nimoy did a number of years back called the "full body project" which can be seen here: http://www.rmichelson.com/artist_pages/nimoy/pages/MaxBeaut.htm

With love to all women of OS! (Yes, my menopausal hormonal swing is making me over-emotional today, but it is still genuinely meant!)
Thanks for the invite! This is fascinating stuff, and I will be back to post comments later. :)
Sorry. I can never read one of her books because I know something about her that prevents it. She's dead but she destroyed a good man's reputation before she died. That's it for me with her.
Sandra I don't remember you posting anything that ever denigrated other women about their weight. Quite the opposite.
I have not read the other two posts on this, so this is my first comment on it. You may have talked about Eve Ensler already but I remember something clicked in me a few years ago I heard some words of Eve that say:

“What is at the core of this desire to mutilate and starve myself?” she asks. “We spend our days shrinking, fixing, lipo-ing, tightening, dying… I’ve yet to meet a woman who doesn’t do that, even if she’s pretending she’s not.”

“There’s a way women have learned to not like their bodies in every single culture. We’re all contaminated at birth. In some places you have to be fat to be the chosen bride, so you eat, eat, eat. Here, you need to disappear to be the chosen bride, so you starve, starve, starve. Somebody’s making this all up.”

Ensler acknowledges that fighting an internal enemy—in this case, convincing women to change the way they view themselves—is not an easy struggle. “Body image is so deep and complex that the uprooting is very delicate surgery,” she says. “Ninety percent of the world is round and colored, but we’re doing everything possible to be skinny and blonde. That’s insane.”

and this is the part that I work on internalizing:

Her cure: Stop fixing your body, start fixing the world.
“When women do what we’re not supposed to do,” Ensler says, “the world changes.”
First, I have to say, WOW!

The honesty and vividness of this post and the comments have introduced me to the interior life of women who define their own "fuckability" based on the cultural ideal - a 19-year-old waif. As I've mentioned in one of my own posts, one of the positives of my disability is that I never internalized this war on ourselves that so many women are subject to. If I were to define my sexuality based on body image, I'd have a rough time. And I do have to say, for those of you who are still struggling with the idea that one day you won't be "fuckable" any more because you've lost your looks to nature's paintbrush or gained too much weight:
1) people still have sex into advanced ages - as long as they still enjoy it, they're gonna do it and they'll find partners, too.
2) My ex hubby, I learned by cleaning out his junk after he was gone, was obsessed with large lady porn - which might explain how he wound up with a woman who was supposed to be my friend who weighs considerably more than I.

I would never have imagined the vast quantity of large lady porn there was available had I not found all his leftover pix downloaded off the internet or the magazines he had hidden in the guest room closet I couldn't get into until he moved some of his junk out of it. I really don't know why he left all that for me to find, but it was definitely eye-opening. If there's that much porn out there, there are a lot of men who like large ladies. So you really have no worries there, either.

I heard echoes of the messages I received from my own mother, who had an extremely low self-image and thought of herself as grossly fat - she was mostly a 14 or 16 - and ladies, I've read that 14 is the average in America these days. If it's the average, how can that be FAT!? I know there is a lot of obesity in America - and that has brought the average up considerably - that it was 10 or 12 not so long ago. But, still, shouldn't healthiness be a better measure?

Yet, reading your post and comments, I understand that it isn't a logical "argument" with the self - and that you know that already. But I am truly distressed by how hard you are on yourselves. I feel lucky to have "crip" as a body image in contrast, but that makes me feel the pain that you are putting yourselves through with your self-images.

My sister took to heart my mother's carping on weight and "maintaining herself" so she would be attractive to men. She obsesses much like you do about thighs that aren't fat and a butt that is very nicely shaped. She exercises incessantly and won't eat anything with fat in it (and wonders why her hair is thin and lifeless and mine is thick and lustrous). But my father is gay (and won't admit it). He has affairs with men - and has throughout my parents marriage - which only ended when my mother died a few years ago. My mother's weight was never the problem that led to their sexless marriage. My father's sexuality was the problem.

You've hit the nail on the head with the "fuckability" label. I can see that. But it saddens me to see what you put yourselves through!

I recognize that it is easier said than done, but if you could change the way you look at what is fuckable, you might find life easier. Take it from a crip: a woman with a twisted body in a wheelchair can be sexy. If I am sexy, you are, too.

One of the men who posted said that he thought the way a woman viewed herself - her attitude - had more to do with what's sexy to him than how she looked. I believe that is absolutely true. It has been my experience. I go through periods of deep depression. When I am depressed, I truly hate my body the way you women seem to. Then, I can't get a man to look at me to save my life. But when I am feeling good about the world (and my place in it), I get lots of looks and frankly sexual grins and comments. I know I could have my choice of many men. I do believe attitude - the way we carry ourselves and our attitudes about ourselves - has a lot to do with what makes us sexy in the eyes of men.

But then again, I have to make one other comment: while having a sexual relationship is fulfilling, it's not the end of the world to have a period of celibacy. Why do women worry so much about that? I know America defines womankind on the basis of sexuality, but we don't have to buy it.

I really think focusing on improved self-esteem could become the key to diminishing food obsessions and anxiety about fuckability to a great degree. My life forced me to embrace my wheelchair as a means to gain freedom - mobility. It forced me to accept the body I have, with all its limitations. I can't say it was an easy or painless process. I can say it was hard work, especially as a teenager, to learn to love my body the way it is. And I can't say that I don't sometimes blame the chair and the twisted body in it for making me feel less than fuckable.

But I can say that I eat what I want, that I love food for its smells and flavors, that cheese is one of my favorite things and I can't imagine life without cheese. I can say that I eat a healthy balance of food with vegetables and fruits being the majority of my diet, but that I don't do that because I am forcing myself to - I do it because those are the foods I love to eat. (My steamer is my favorite cooking tool. I absolutely love being able to wash and slice a few veggies and throw them into the steamer and eat 15 minutes later. It is so EASY! That's my main concern.) I tend to put butter (real butter) and cheese on many of the things that come out of my steamer - and I don't eat much meat. But that's mostly because it's more complicated and time consuming to prepare meat dishes than it is to throw a few things in the steamer.

I like to eat ice cream for dessert.

I know I am lucky. But, again, I wonder at a society that makes me feel lucky to be a crip because it means I don't feel compelled to obsess over what I put in my mouth to the point of counting every calorie or even throwing up so that I can add more calories.
Walkawayhappy,

Tell us about your amazing husband. How did he come to be the person he is?

Gawd.
I'm just not sure I get this term "fuckability", especially coming from you. Do you have a better definition? If it just deals with sex appeal, your expectation to be able to arouse the males around you, it seems glib, especially coming from you. If it deals with intimacy, fears of it, or lack of it--it seems crude--not up to the intellect you display over and over on this blog. Whatever it means, I'd like to know. It seems essential to understanding a feminst with body image issues--and all the other paradoxes of your bio.
ellonwheels, thanks for sharing your perspective. I think perhaps b/c we're focused somewhat unilaterally on a mutli-layered topic that I, at least, may have given the wrong impression about my Self, as a whole. I should be clear: I love my body, and never more than when I'm running up a mountain gaining 2,000 feet in elevation gain over just 4 or 5 miles. I'm in awe of it's strength and what my mind can make it do. I live being strong looking and muscular - I way prefer it to looking waifish. And my self image is very positive - I have more esteem than I know what to do with.

My body image is not my self image. And while my body image is sometimes not as up to the task as my self image in inspiring self love, I do NOT hate my body. Even when I was a confused teenager suffering from anorexia, I did not hate my body - I think back then, what I *thought* I hated was myself, because my parents drilled it in to me how worthy of contempt I was. But my punishment - anorexia - was as much a punishment of them (see how fucked up my parents are? why else would I be so pathetically thin?) as of me.

For me this discussion of the appetites of the body - of the female body - is not defined by food, it is simply that weight and food are reflections of the meta level discussion. I think when we're talking about food and weight we're really talking about sex. Even the talk about fuckability is talking about sex, just from an oblique angle. I think all of the discussions about how women 'should' be and act are really about sex, actually. I think the real national tragedy isn't that so many women focus on their butt or thigh size, or the clothing size they wear, but that some 30% or more of women haven't had an orgasm, and even more don't regularly masturbate. I don't think a lack of orgasm is about a lack of self esteem due to poor body image - I think it's the other way around. I think women are taught from a very young age that sexual desire isn't for them, it's for men. We're taught to see ourselves as a receptacle for men's desires, and from the earliest years we are inculcated in this belief, which means a lifelong process of sublimating our own desires, pouring our focus and energy and hope and love into how we look for men, so they will be pleased with us, instead of exploring our sexual selves for the sake of *our* selves.
With my mom and her friends/sisters I've often heard how they 'shouldn't' eat something (usually while they are eating it) that isn't something I observe a lot with women my age. True, women are heavier now than they were in my mom's day. Is that because we are finally in the first real steps of breaking free of the self imposed bondage of idealized body image? Women are saying "Fuck you, I'm eating this, and I won't be the stupid size 2 I was never meant to be." Sure, women are heavier today than in my mom's day - maybe it makes sense that when women break free of constricting molds, they overlow those molds with a vengeance. Then the pendulum gradually swings back as women start discovering what is right and comfortable for them. I hope so.
"Deborah,
What do you think the connection is between my disorganized money and my calorie counting? I think I might see the correlation but I'm interested in hearing what you think."

I think it has to do with self-esteem. You're not "worthy" of the money you earn, you're not "worthy" of spending money on yourself and enjoying it so you kind of ignore it and put it on a back burner, the fact that you don't balance your checkbook proves to you and others that money is not important.

But money is very important, especially for independent women. It is societies means of give and take and could save your life and give you a high(er) quality of life. Instead you focus on how your belly looks and if the strange man who you will never see again finds you attractive. Orman would point out this is a backwards way of living. But I'd guess more women than not do this and think this way.
I think that more than what others feel about you; what you yourself exude through attitude and how you see yourself matters most. Some of these ideas seems extremely messed up to me. But then I think that our society as a whole truly does a disservice to women in many ways.

Early on I "knew" I could never compete on the cuteness scale. So I found other ways to interact. It took me forever to feel as though I might be attractive. Once I got in the groove though it was a difficult rush to let go of. I often tell friends that I went through a sort of delayed adolescence.

More important than physical attraction (but certainly not to be discounted entirely) is the ability to connect on an intellectual level from my point of view. It has been several years, actually a couple of decades since I was out in the field so to speak. I have never been what you might call thin. I am rather tall so that can help hide the fact that I carry so much weight. But feeling good is more than a number it has a lot to do with general health and well-being. I know it has been said before but confidence is very sexy. The audacity of hope in the bedroom can be a very good thing.

Thoughts are disjointed; body seeks sleep. Great discussion. Sweet dreams.
Sorry. This is an amazing discussion, and I'm trying hard to stay in the game but my head's throbbing.

As to the term 'fuckability.' It's not my term. It's a term I've heard men throw around. I was once told that the first decision a man makes upon meeting a woman is whether, given the opportunity, he would have sex with her. That was one man's take on things, but I'm also surrounded by college-age men every day, and they seem to spend an awful lot of time talking about various women's "assets."

I am in a committed, passionate relationship. I don't have any interest in sleeping with any other man. I didn't mean for this whole thing to turn into a thread about fuckability, but through a largely accidental structuring, it's where we've wound up. We still talk about part of a woman's power being based on whether men want to sleep with her. There's certainly enough in our mythology/storytelling/culture that tells us that a man who wants to fuck a woman can be at her mercy. As if the power shifts. (This is such a huge can of worms, I'm trying not to open up anything else.) But I guess the question is, is there power for women in the fact that a man wants to sleep with her? Does it give her some power over him? Does it give her some kind of cultural capital? And if that's the case, if being desirable is a route to power, than obsessing about the state of your body is obsessing about trying to get power.

It's part of the larger questions that Knapp will ask. Because the whole book is not about food or sex. It's about various types of female desire for power, how we try to get it, and what it costs us.

One of the things I like about being in good shape has nothing to do with sex. It has to do with my own sense of power when I can accomplish something physical--a long hike, a long climb. That stuff makes me feel powerful, that I can set off into the woods and walk for miles.

I think I'm going to have to bow out of the conversation for a while. My head is really throbbing, and I simply cannot form coherent thoughts anymore. But I'm loving what's emerging here--just this talking to one another about delicate topics.
FLW, I'm only going to say two things because I got in far too much trouble on this subject already.

1. I don't agree totally with this: "Mastery over the body—its impulses, its needs, its size—is paramount; to lose control is to risk beauty..." For me, and I bet for Many others, in this context to lose control is to risk safety.
2. You say, "Somehow, if I control food, perhaps I can control enough of the aging process that I'm still fuckable." Nope. Not true. Not about age. If you feel and ACT fuckable, you are. To one who loves you. Ask my mother at 86 and no longer slim but my dad can't keep his hands off her.

Julie, everything you say makes sense.
Hi FLW, another great post, but I just have a quick minute and wanted to ask this. I've cherry picked something out of Dana's comment but it goes to everyone here who has expressed (somewhat regretfully) a connection between being thin and self-esteem or being desirable. So, here's Dana's comment, and then my question:

And with every pound I gain, I lose a pound of self-esteem. If I feel fat, I do not feel like a woman. I don't feel sexual, I don't feel feminine, I don't feel worthwhile to my mate.

My question: Do you feel this way about other women? (I'm not talking to Dana as a lesbian, but to all of you as women who judge themselves as inferior when not at a 'good' weight). If you think you aren't worthy of love or whatever when you're not thin, do you feel some contempt for others who are overweight, perhaps much more so than yourself? Be honest.
It pisses me off that I can be bright & reasonable & sane in all other areas, but when it comes to my weight I'm still doing the same thing you write of -- the self-loathing and grabbing the fat on my hips first thing in the morning, waking up feeling fat, knowing every single calorie count in my head. The feeling of unworthiness & self-disgust she writes of -- so true! and ridiculous, of course. I don't look at other women this way -- if anything, I admire & envy women who love their bodies and aren't all weird & hung-up about their weight. I only judge myself. I don't think it's fuckability so much as being seen as weak & failing & lazy. I don't want to be seen as giving up, I want to be ridiculously admired for "staying in shape." Maybe because I used to get a lot of attention for HAVING a shape. I got a job once and was told later that it was because the other more qualified applicant was "fat." Guys I worked with used to warn me if I looked like I'd gained a pound or two. Even my mother bragged about my "shape." So yeah, there's usually a basis for our hangups, but how to get past them? That's the tricky part.

(Also, I HATE those magazine articles about new mothers losing their birth weight and how amazing and wonderful that is. No thought of the baby or if she's a good mom or breastfeeding or keeping up enough nutrients to keep her baby healthy. It's all about how she looks. I HATE that, but at the same time I want to turn the page & see how she did it. Sick.)

Thanks for this conversation -- it's good to talk (& God knows my husband doesn't get it...) and good to read all these dialogues!
THANK YOU, Sally! I too agree that it's about how you feel, how you conduct yourself through life. Good grief, women could change the WORLD if they each and every one knew how beautiful they are. And as for the hordes of wonderful men out there who don't give a flying fuck about how much women who WANT them weigh, you can believe they're out there. I've got one. It sure ain't about weight in my house. It's about love, and desire, and LIVING in your body. As I've aged, I've accepted the new roles that seem to come with every decade or so. As it happens, I'm now the matriarch of my family, a role I was born for. I hope that for every woman: that they feel comfortable in their own bodies, that they smile at others because EVERYONE has their own beauty, that they focus OUT on the world instead of IN on themselves.

And thanks for the Leonard Nimoy shout-out! His photos are great, as are the beautiful ones included here. Namaste.
there are only two things I can try to add to this discussion

1) I agree with Lorraine that class and weight are related. this is why anti-fat statements (often made by liberals like bill maher for example) piss me off. They piss me off as discriminatory. I used to babysit for a lot of rich women on Lookout Mountain Tenesee when I was a college student and many of the women didn't work outside the home (or inside it...they had housekeepers and nannies and babysitters) and I could tell by the food they kept in their refrigerator and the weight watchers paraphenelia everywhere they spent a lot of time dieting. I pitied them because their lives seemed so narrow (and I hate that feeling of denying my body food if I'm hungry...I know there can be an addictive power to saying no to the body...but saying yes to the body seems so much more sensual to me on so many different levels).

2) I don't think there's a relationship between being size two and arousing desire in men. There have been studies and arousal level (ha...what fun these studies must have been to conduct) all reveal that women of all shape, size etc. are capable of eliciting desire. So there's a social role for thinness (a symbol of success or class) but it is not a biological thing at all...far from it. Somehow this makes me feel better, like it is just one more artificial thing like the artificial food we eat and lives we live separated from nature in so many important ways. It's not a biological or natural urge to push down desire to eat in order to force bodies to conform to a cookie cutter standard. It's more a product of industrialization and our resulting cultural machinery. (Although I found it interesting once reading Mahatma Ghandi's autobiography how completely obsessed he was with food and what he put into his body...I honestly wondered if he had anorexia on some level because he seemed to derive a lot of pleasure from saying 'no' instead of 'yes' to the body).

I said two but now I've thought of a third one...I also think Kate Hardings work is valuable in promoting fat acceptance. I find her attitude toward her body (and bodies--especially female-- in general) refreshing and smart.
p.s. Lorraine, I want to clarify in regard to the women on Lookout Mtn, that I see you more in the Ghandi category of someone with food issues...your life has meaning, and you have heart and soul; I'm sorry that this is one more thing pulling from your life energy, if it is. I'm glad you have a partner who seems to love/want you for who you are...

Hyblaean, I like all of your comments also your point about covering up successes...that's a really valid point. In other cultures its considered bad manners to brag...I knew a nursing student from eastern Europe who struggled to write a letter asking for admission to graduate school because she had to sing her own praises, and it felt completely unnatural and strange.
Extremely well written... so much food for thought. I'll be 56 this year and my theory is, hey, if I'm still breathing I'm totally fuckable!! It's finding someone I want to fuck that seems to be the problem. So much of our culture is based on looks, as I age I really feel it. But I refuse to give up, damn it!
I was going to read, but I couldn't get past the first photo.
I ordered the book.

This is all so hard to talk about. I have been on diets since fourth grade. I had gastric bypass, lost a lot of weight, and then gained it all back again. I've used the fen-phen drugs. You know the story. I can't believe I'm actually contributing this right now.

My mother is also heavy, and she tried to help me avoid weight problems by putting me on a diet at such a young age. Now they say putting children on restricted calorie diets is not the right approach, that it actually perpetuates the problem. I stopped trying to stay on top of the diet zeitgeist some time ago, so I guess I don't really know what the "experts" are saying now.

What I did want to share is that I think my weight issues are closely connected to my choice of a woman as a mate. The rules are different, I think, between two women. This is something I'll have to dwell on a bit.

The women in the photos? They are beautiful.
Here's what my mother told me:

"You'll probably have to be the class clown to fit in. That's where fat people find their place."

That's probably the most hurtful thing I ever heard her say, and I couldn't have been more than nine or ten years old. My mother loves me, and she was trying to help. But this may be a part of me that is never healed.
The book sounds fascinating. It reminds me of another feminist work I read in the 1990s regarding women and desires. I kick myself now, since I can't remember the title or author. Basically, she discoursed on the central role that women have in dispensing desires and desirable things--like creating a delicious meal for others to enjoy or being desirable in appearance--yet get caught up in the requirement for women to abstain from enjoying pleasure themselves in order to be pleasurable. I tried to look this work up on the internet and found nothing. Sorry.

Men want women of all shapes and sizes. The magazine covers are a lie; they are a lie about what men want, they are a lie about what most women look like, they are even a lie about what that particular model looks like--since they are so airbrushed and photoshopped. The greatest mental health break women can give themselves is never believing that hype ever again.

The truth is we are all getting older; someday, even if we don't have to deal with a disability issue now, we probably will have to. We will never really be able to shirk the responsibility of taking care of ourselves or taking care of others, nutritionally, sexually, emotionally, or economically. Even when we are being taken care of, whether that's a foot rub or the care we receive when we are sick, we cannot be passive about the care we receive. Nor can women afford to neglect themselves in the course of taking care of others.

It's essential to look at all the social, political, anti-women capitalist influences that sway us to think one way or another about our bodies. Being a revolutionary, though, means choosing not to buy the hype. That, too, is part of our self-care. Nothing relieves us from the responsibility that is ours alone to take for our own care.

I would say the radical thing to do is weed out all the messages that distract from really taking good care of yourself and act on those thoughts and habits that truly instill a sense of well-being. If that means sharing chocolate with a friend--screw the calories. If that means carving out 10 to 20 minutes of exercise time rather than watching a sitcom rerun you've seen a dozen times before, do that. If that means taking 10 minutes for meditation in the morning to calm anxiety--well, I could go on and on.

Definitely, if there are issues like compulsive overeating, anorexia, and bulimia, then get help from a therapist or counselor qualified in that area. So much anorexia starts when girls' bodies are just beginning to change. Their changing bodies are beyond their control, so they try to enforce so control by starving themselves or forcing themselves to throw up. Growing up and facing life is very much about learning what you can control and what you can't.

Overeating for me was about seeking comfort from food at a time when the family situation I was living through held very little comfort or security. There was so much about my family that I couldn't control as a little girl, so I ate instead, till my weight became one more thing that I couldn't control, but at least that was something I could obsess about to distract me from the family shit.
@Leslie, you ask, "But I guess the question is, is there power for women in the fact that a man wants to sleep with her? Does it give her some power over him? Does it give her some kind of cultural capital? And if that's the case, if being desirable is a route to power, than obsessing about the state of your body is obsessing about trying to get power."

Within a patriarchal culture that commodifies women, I think that one holds onto the power one gains though being desirable by withholding, or at least limiting access to sex. By this definition, a powerful woman must hold onto all of her lusts, whether they be for sex, food, or even the direct exercise of control. How often are we told that women like Pelosi or Clinton (often denigrated for their perceived lack of sexual attractiveness) are too aggressive?

There is another, related question - can a woman be powerful if she is not considered sexually desirable within the very narrow limits of traditional cultural definitions? I think that was what I was attempting to speak to in my previous comment. Achieving power within that context is certainly possible, but requires much greater energy and a much more conscious act of will.

On another note, in my own defense, though I struggle with these issues, I don't let them define me. I actually like my body at a higher BMI than is considered within the normal range (size 12 - 14). And I don't feel myself to be "unsexy" regardless of my weight, unless I hear it from a lover, which has only happened once in the recent past. I also love sex, have never denied myself in this regard (except during the dry celibacy that defined the later half of my relationship with my female ex). circles in which I travel.

Where all of this becomes more confusing for me is that when I get above a certain weight, there are health considerations - my LDL goes up, I become borderline hypertensive, and the pressure from my weight puts tremendous strain on an old ankle/foot injury that never healed properly and so makes it more difficult to exercise, which then complicates all of these health issues. Right now, between having been seriously sick and taking care of aging parents (and so not getting enough exercise), have gotten back up to what for me is not a healthy weight and that is what starts me obsessing about food.

Which begs another question - how do we separate the health aspect from repression? That is another difficult task, particularly considering that our culture's puritanical foundations make all pleasure suspect, and that misogyny makes them even more suspect for women?

@Julie, regarding the tyranny of freedom - I am not sure that I feel oppressed by the amount of choice I have when it comes to food, or sexual expression, for that matter. I know what I like and don't like, what brings me pleasure, and what doesn't. I engage in acts/foods that bring me pleasure, avoid those that don't. Not sure if this is answering your question...

@Leslie, it is sometimes amazing how much our well-meaning parents can hurt us. I recently had to tell my mother, whom I adore, that she was never allowed to talk to me about weight anymore, whether she approved or disapproved of what I weighed.

On another note, I believe that things are different for queer women when it comes to sex - for me being queer, working in a field dominated by women, and having spent a significant portion of my life not sexually involved with men have given me a certain measure of freedom and a great deal of unfiltered pleasure. The idea that one's desirability is in part dependent upon control is not a part of the pro-sex feminism that dominates the lesbian/queer circles in which I travel

However, I am not sure that things are always better in the lesbian community when it comes to weight issues. As I mentioned in my previous comment, "please be fit" is a code phrase in online lesbian dating circles for "don't be fat."
Wow. I just keep picturing all of us in the same room together, talking to one another and explaining where we've come from, and why this stuff is or is not important to us. The wisdom of our collective observations are amazing. And some of the facts that have been cited--people who would abort a child they knew would be obese--are chilling.

The book as a whole, is about female desire. Somehow, for me, my desire for sex comes at the expense of my desire for food. I'm intensely sexual--experience the world as a sexual being--and, while I've been through periods of chastity, much prefer to be in a situation where my body is being touched and loved on regularly. The thing is, I love a man who would love me regardless of my size. It's me who has decided that I am only desirable up to a certain size. Those are internalized messages from childhood and from being a woman in this culture.
And it doesn't matter that I'm a feminist who can deconstruct a Cosmo cover in 10 seconds flat. That shit it still out there.

An example. A few weeks ago, we were having an editorial meeting for the college magazine I direct. The students, all women that particular day, were talking about their main sources of news--Cosmo, The View, other talk shows like Tyra, reality shows. One of them, who claims to be a Women's Studies major, is writing a paper on how Cosmo affects how women see each other. You see, it had finally dawned on her that Cosmo is not about women--it's about how women can make themselves more attractive to men. It was the sort of obtuse observation that made me want to cry. As in, "It took you four years of studying this to realize that headlines like 'How to make your man happy in bed?" were not about making women happy? But more about how women can make themselves happy by pleasing men?"
I didn't say anything. I was just glad she had finally realized it. But look at the covers of women's magazines these days. Most of the headline stories now are about various sexual positions that you can use to blow his mind. Nothing about how you can educate yourself and blow your own mind.
I don't read those magazines. But that shit's insidious anyway. My male students, before class, will frequently talk about young women who they saw at parties. "I'd hit that," they say, thinking that I don't know the various permutations of slang.
I don't hear them say, "She's so smart and that's a turn-on." I still don't think young women are getting the message from their male peers that it's okay to be smart to be sexy--that it's still about how you look.
The lesbian students in my class this semester wrote about desire, too, and there was an emphasis on the beauty of their partner's body.
I look at certain men in this culture--men whom I consider reprehensible because of the shit that comes out of their mouth, and it doesn't matter what they look like or what they weigh or don't weigh or how they dress--there's always an attractive woman on their arm. If they were dating a less-than-attractive woman, there would be some snarky comment, but women are supposed to date men for their personalities, not their looks.
It's been fascinating to hear that even in lesbian personal ads, attempts are made to filter out those who are "fat."

I have no idea where to go with this comment, other than to nod my head in agreement at virtually everything that's been said by everyone here. Thank you. I've learned a lot.

I hope people will keep talking. I'm still gathering my thoughts.
Queen Latifa. Does anyone dispute that that woman is sexy, desirable and fuckable as all get-out? So, what makes this heavy woman fuckable and others of us not?
I hope people keep talking, too. I'm learning much that would have taken me years to get around to, if I ever did at all.
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"@Julie, regarding the tyranny of freedom - I am not sure that I feel oppressed by the amount of choice I have when it comes to food, or sexual expression, for that matter. I know what I like and don't like, what brings me pleasure, and what doesn't. I engage in acts/foods that bring me pleasure, avoid those that don't. Not sure if this is answering your question..."

Shivaun, I wasn't looking at it so much from the food or sexual expression viewpoint, as wondering about the many decisions that need to be made in an average day- most small, but some with far reaching consequence, and it's hard to tell the difference. I feel bombarded with choices, to the point that I run and hide in video games, where the world is very limited and the choices are, too. I just wondered if I felt that way due to some bad chemical signaling (I have more than my share of faulty switches), or if it was common phenomenon.
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Karen worries alot about her fuckability. I would say it's probably one of the main factors in our divorce. (that she's not getting any younger and wants to be out getting some while the getting is good) She asks me stuff like: "what's the youngest age that would be interested in sleeping with me" and then she has to clarify it to female, since I always say 18 yo boy for the obvious reason. It's always an issue with her.

I, on the other hand, am now interested in losing weight primarily to open the market for potential mates. My weight and looks are part of my marketability, and my marketability will determine my standard of living, which is important to me. I have worked 3 jobs to survive before- I can do it, but it sucks. So I look to have a mate, but I haven't had much success with mating, so the fear will drive me into a sort of panicked frenzy in which I will make bad choices. I haven't yet, because Karen is still here and vaguely attached, but I will, I always have- there is a certain inevitability to it.

We can say don't worry about how others see you, but when it limits your sexual freedom or your financial security, really, we can't help but worry about it. The only people that can (and do) relax are those in secure primary relationships.
money- fame- humor- a personality most of us will never have? ;) just to name a few
The term "the tyranny of freedom" reminds me of a Simpsons episode where Homer is in space and there's an ant colony and things go awry and the ants are set loose in space and they're floating in the cosmos and as he drifts by an ant says "Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!" And I so got it.
*snerf* Consonant! that was a riot, Thank you :D

Well that would be the ideal wouldn't it ;) I appreciate the support Neil, Thank you.
i wanted to add an idea about the tyranny of freedom. i don't think it's the volume of the choices necessarily, it's the way they are presented and valued by the community. i wonder if the way we've commodified our lives has changed the way we make choices. as an example, i was watching ricki lake's movie about natural birth the other night. now, this is not an opinion on natural birth methods... but i was struck by the way the narrative emphasized that you were being unwittingly oppressed by the male, medical patriarchy if you didn't have a doula and a water birth. there was no room in that presentation for choicemaking: it was pure marketing about that single option.

if you think about it, there's a fairly low volume of choices about having kids (not raising kids, just having them). your choices are 1) have them, or 2) don't have them. though that volume is low, i would say it's nonetheless one of the most fraught choices a woman can make in her life. images of that choice bombard you throughout the day and it's really incredible to think about how much thought goes into presentations of motherhood in the media. deciding to or not to have a kid sounds simple, but i think it's a choice that must be actively confronted every single hour, whether to be mourned or celebrated, it's never finished.

that's oppressive. thank you, both of you, for starting this conversation. these are interesting things to think about and i also want to thank shivaun for posting the link for leonard nimoy's awesome photos.
The "tyranny of freedom" stuff takes me back to college philosophy courses and the "despair" of Existentialism. I'm sorry, but for me that's a false construct, and a little too removed and academic for what is a real-life, tactile, cultural wrasslin' match that women face every day.

This thread is so awesome that it needs to remain close to the earth, where it has greater weight and substance, and is not rarified to the nothingness intellectual capricious breezes. We struggle with weight. We struggle with culture and biology. We struggle with our place in the world and in our own heads, and we try to balance all the competing interests and factors. Yet, when it comes down to it, we all feel that our mass weighs (sic) on our worthiness, no matter the reason.

I, for one, am glad. Were it not to matter to me, I would be big as a house. Caring about one's weight and appearance is a cultural and biological survival trait. Rather than wish the ocean wasn't there, I choose to swim.

But everything in life is about balance. Balance in spirit, in desire, in servitude to cultural imperatives ... whatevah. Balance in all things.

And yet, my lunch consists of cantaloupe and watermelon slices, dry whole wheat toast and sparkling water. So much for balance...
First of all, I cannot believe that I missed this post when it was posted. Why wasn't it an editor's pick and on the front cover? Also, why haven't I heard of this book before? It sounds brilliant. Although I like your writing better. I absolutely love this line: "why do we devote even a moment of our day to the devil's arithmetic." fingerlakeswanderer, thanks for your utter and complete honesty. I've spent my whole life, since puberty, struggling with image/weight issues. I can't blame it on anyone else because my friends, husband, and community are totally supportive of me. It's all in my head. Maybe I should stop watching TV...and movies...and looking at magazines. Okay, I guess I'd have to be a hermit to get away from the superficial beauty ideal in America. HYBLAEAN: thanks for your comments too. I am an equal-rights feminist and I have so many sensitive, non-macho guy friends and gay friends that I really hate it when women and men and compared and put into opposite boxes/catagories. We are individuals, damn it. And there happens to be more than two catagories of sexual identity as well. Okay, I think I've said enough for now.
Denese: I know lots of men that are attracted to curvy, even heavy women. Lots of men like women that are soft and curvy. Lots of women like women who are soft and curvy. I think we women put more of the extreme emphasis on our own physical appearance than men do. (At least, any man that I would associate with.) But then, I don't hang out with men or women that value image above substenance.
I remember reading that weight is less a factor in a woman's "fuckability" than is her waist-to-hip ratio. The theory goes that childbearing hips is what arouses men, and a healthy woman with good childbearing ability will have roughly a 2/3 waist/hip ratio.

That ratio is expressed in the stereotypical "36-24-36" measurement.

So, supposedly, the closer a woman's waist/hip ratio is to the 2/3 ideal, the more attractive she is. That's why women with figures as diverse as Queen Latifa, Marylin Monroe and Kate Moss can all be seen as sexually appealing. Regardless of their weight or fatness, they all have the ideal waist/hip ratio.

Whether she has a 24" waist and 36" hips, or a 30" waist and 45" hips, is unimportant. It is, apparently, the magic ratio that determines fuckability. (Unfortunately for me, I'm built too straight up and down, and will never make that ratio, no matter how thin or fat I am.)

Has anyone ever heard of this 2/3 ratio theory? And does it, or should it, color this discussion?
I hate to be a Neanderthal, but when people married younger and stayed married--grandparents. parents, aunts, uncles, cousins-- people were not so obsessed with their weight, not so dedicated to fighting aging. I have no reason to think they weren't fuckable--by their spouses, not the whole opposite sex.

We didn't have a TV until I was 14. My parents only subscribed to politically liberal journals of opinion. My mother never read a women's magazine her entire life as far as I know. We have all been brainwashed by advertising.
I have heard of the ratio, and it makes sense in terms of the "old" standard of beauty. When food was scarce, those paintings of well-nourished, curvaceous, wide-hipped, big-breasted women were beautiful baby-makers and great bed-warmers. Imagine it being cold and snuggling up next to someone that fleshy? Yum.
But we lost that. One of the theories is that thinness became tyranny in the 1920s, when women started to come into their own power. The Flapper movement emphasized that almost-boyish figure. There's a book on women's bodies reflecting their political power. I'll see if I can find the title. And the 2/3 ratio--I know that somehow, it's instinctual. Men can see it when they look at a woman.

Gwendolyn,
I'm sorry you missed the first two parts of this series. But I'm trying to organize a new book group which you'll see in another post.

ALSO, we're going to continue talking about this book, which is available from Amazon, and on the 28th, we'll get to the next chapter, which is only chapter 2, so feel free to catch up with us. It would be cool to have you reading along with us.
I was born in 1945, graduated from grade school in 1959, high school in 1963, college in 1967. My friends and I worried about Vietnam, the draft, civil rights. We never talked about our weight, I kid you not.

Women's obsession with their weight seems to be a voluntary acceptance of our version of Chinese footbinding. Just as the world opened up to us, we decided to torture ourselves.

I don't think men have that much to do with it. We just became passive capitalist stooges. Don't read women's magazines--ever. Read the Nation. I no longer am willing to be friends with women who can't do out to dinner without talking about their weight, who refer to delicious food as sinful. What is wrong with us?

Now we are oppressing ourselves. We don't need society or men to do it.
"Now we are oppressing ourselves. We don't need society or men to do it."
I think that is a strong component.
"The "tyranny of freedom" stuff takes me back to college philosophy courses and the "despair" of Existentialism. I'm sorry, but for me that's a false construct, and a little too removed and academic for what is a real-life, tactile, cultural wrasslin' match that women face every day."
Huh, I didn't think so Dana.
As a fat girl...I resent like hell the negative comments made about thin women. They are not skeletons, cadavers, or "not real women"...

My desire to be seen as desirable does not require the humiliation of another body type to make me feel better.

Now if only that could be reversed.....
Persephone,
I've heard it said that the last acceptable bigotry in the US is against fat people. I hate the way that we treat other human beings in our culture--first of all, forgetting that they are human. This is not all that relevant, but I should mention that folks often feel no compunction to not say something abou my height. Like I'v never noticed that I'm 5 foot one.
I've come to this discussion late, but I am very enthusiastic about the approach, the commentary, and the book itself.

However, I got hung up on page 4 - with the questions Knapp asks "How hungry does a woman allow herself to be? How filled?" Just these two questions force me to understand I don't have the answer to some basic questions.

I'm 70, have been overweight and/or obese since I was 12 [or more properly, what society even then considered a normal weight for a healthy 12-year-old, certainly not 120 pounds at 5' 2"].

I believed I had read everything, thought everything, tried everything (every diet known, years of conventional psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, exercise, not dieting, counting calories, not counting calories, Weight Watchers, TOPS, Overeaters Anonymous and half a dozen others) but those two questions have stopped me in my tracks.
Dolly,
I'm so glad you picked up the book. I've had that reaction to several instances in the book, where she simply poses a question that I don't have an answer to, and I realize that not being able to answer that question tells me so much about my struggle.
You're not too late to the discussion. We've got plenty of stuff left to read and discuss.
I'm still waiting for the book from the library.
I read this entire thread - no small feat - and I have to call out incandescent for this comment:
"Ask many women, in fact, if they like the feeling of being "small" while held by a much larger man and most will admit that they do. (And I am by no means a very large man. At 5'9", it's a wonder I've had the luck with women I have had. ;) )

Also, about size meaning less as you go down in class - isn't it possible that being poor simply leads to obesity anyway, at least in America, and that the people are simply "taking what they can get" - if a poor man could get an attractive, thin female, I'm sure he would, but they tend to be in short supply in many lower-class areas, at least from my casual observations. They simply have health problems the wealthy don't need to worry about. "

Dear Incandescent - I have read and rated some of your posts, so I'm gobsmacked that you could write that^^^.
It's hard to know where to begin to tell you that you are a misinformed idiot. If a poor man could get an attractive female, um, what...the thin females are for the getting, hunted by the poor man? That attitude contributes to so many ugly stereotypes.
And alas the impoverished fat females will have to mourn the loss of the poor man as he hunts the skinny female.

I don't have the energy to further point out how idiotic your comment is.
Whew! This has been quite a ride!
I tend to agree with ellonwheels, especially because it's amazing to hear her talk about being sexy in a wheelchair, and Redstocking because she keeps saying remember when we were a revolution.

Lainey had an interesting question, about how we treat each other. I am fat, I guess,;I don't perceive myself that way. And I have caught myself looking at someone who is fat and thinking"Wow, you're fat." Maybe people look at me the same way? As I reach for the cookies? Do they examine what's in my grocery cart?
However, I always feel, and always get, the worst vibe and the most rude comments and the most out of place actions from...other women.
My fuckability is not in question as I seem to have captured one of those rare men who likes the chubby. (They are not rare - most men like women who like them. That's the whole mystery. I don't think there's a lot of gender specific details worth noting about sex. It should be fun and pleasurable and continue for hours, weeks and years, in many forms.)
Lesbians like me - because I'm very likeable,and I am open about how attractive I find people. I find women very attractive - duh! - but I crave penetration.
My partner is cute. Six foot two and built like a runner. Only heterosexual women say: "Wow! I didn't expect your boyfriend to look like that!"
What did you expect? That thin men don't mate with fat women?
When I go out on my own - without my partner - it's just WEIRD how I am judged by women. I'm not a threat but I AM a threat because I can shoot pool and make conversation.
I'm comfortable in my skin. Not when I stand in front of the mirror in my skivvies and suck in my gut and lift my tits and look at THAT ideal. But I know how to look good.
I have several beautiful friends. Women who, when they walk down the street, heads turn. I lived for a long time being the best friend to the more attractive friend - even when I was thin. Why compete? I always felt a little bit sorry for them, because they had to fight so hard to be heard. Objectified.
I have a very rich and diverse group of friends. Besides my partner, kevin, my two best friends are women. I can't tolerate being with them together. They are catty, and I am always the oaf.
I love women. I am a feminist. I want equal rights.
But to tell you the truth, I am more comfortable, a lot of the time, with men.
I wish women would stop judging themselves - and me by proxy.
That's all.