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HE SAID, SHE SAID : Will Women Ever Stop Agonizing Over Size? Fat Chance

August 28, 1992|PATRICK MOTT and EVE BELSON

To see our see ourselves as others see us . . .

You'll find few men and women who wouldn't like to have that power, but what they say and what they believe often diverge. The common scenario in front of the mirror: he, 20 pounds overweight, sucks in that gut, draws himself up to full height and sees the high school athlete he once was. She, model-thin, thoroughly aerobicized and dying for a jelly doughnut, sees the circus fat lady.

Who's crazy?

HE: Frankly, I think this subject turns us all into idiots, but I also think the male's delusion is more humanistic and tolerable than the female's. The world is rigged to make us feel inadequate and unworthy and we all need to give ourselves a break. So, OK, he's got a bit of a gut and he's lost a step or two. He knows it. He's just relegating it to the background for the time being. A few extra pounds aren't going to upset the balance of nature.

SHE: You're right, of course. But human nature being what it is, the sexes will not leave well enough alone. For instance, why is there a market for bumper stickers that say "No Fat Chicks" but not one for those that say "Fat ex-boyfriend in trunk"?

HE: Yeah, unfortunately Rubens is dead and so is his ideal of the female form. What appears to be alive and well, though--and getting worse--is a vapid ideal of physical beauty that requires one to look chiseled, tanned and obnoxiously aggressive. And that's the women. If any man is going to hold a woman to that silly ideal, he'd better be prepared to do sit-ups all day. That sounds like too much work to me. I'm prepared to concede a little lack of muscle tone if she is.

SHE: Understand that you have that choice; women do not. It's this pernicious culture thing hanging round our necks, and it's bigger than both of us. While a man's face "develops character" as he ages, a woman's face "falls apart." While a man's beer gut--the result of generally obnoxious overindulgence--calls for hearty ribbing, a woman's large hips--often the result of bearing his children--are viewed with utter disdain. Don't you think your evenhandedness means little in the face of this kind of blanket derision?

HE: But the rules keep changing. One year, big muscles are in for men. The next year, you're supposed to be slim and supple, like a swimmer. One year high definition is essential for women. Now I understand there's a backlash and a softer, rounder look is in. It makes me want to find Ralph Lauren and Sylvester Stallone and every designer and aerobics instructor in the world and ship them all off to Devil's Island so we can get on with the business of being human.

Left to their own devices, I think people would soon give up on this he's-got-character-she's-got-crow's-feet talk.

SHE: You're still sitting on the edge of the battle sharpening your pen knife. Sure, the vogue for body shapes changes from one year to the next, not unlike fashion in general. But men have always had the choice to distance themselves from the fray of suffering for the right look. The androgynous slim-hipped look may be in, but show me one man who'll cry his eyes out because he has to buy his pants one size larger than "the ideal."

HE: And this invests women with righteousness? Please. Do they go ballistic over pants sizes because they're afraid men won't like them? That's silly. Or do they do it because they're afraid other women will belittle them? That's sillier.

SHE: You've hit it on the head, of course. It's ludicrous for whatever reason. But how do you break the cycle? How do you stop women hobbling around in shoes too small for them because they've been force-fed the line that only small feet are dainty?

Why do medium-sized women like me find themselves falling out of dresses labeled Size 2 because manufacturers are mislabeling merchandise so large women can feel good when they are able to spoon themselves into a Size 10 dress?

In other words, and with a nod to Professor Henry Higgins, when will a woman be able to be more like a man? When will a woman be able to let her gut hang over her belt after lunch? When will she be unafraid to weigh herself in public, no matter who is watching? When . . . .

HE: When someone gives her permission to. The big question is, who's that going to be?

SHE: There's plenty of blame to go around, which means the answer lies in the hands of a committee whose members are barely talking to each other. Sure women should stop agonizing over their size. But it's a tough sell when every fashion catalogue, department store dummy and chic celebrity reinforces the notion that nice clothes only look right on the ultra-slim. And it's even tougher when the guys always ask the slim girls to dance first.

The heartbreaker, of course, is that the slim girls say "Yes" every time, no matter what shape the guys are in.

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