For women self-hate is the problem, not short
Wednesday, November 04, 1998 By Samantha Bennett
It seems as though every few weeks, you read a story about a scientific study
whose findings are so astonishing, so arresting, they make you go: DUH!
Recently, I read such a story about a study at Colorado College aimed at
throwing light from new, unflattering angles at American womankind's
best-documented nightmare. The researchers asked 350 college students what
mattered most about their bodies - strength, health, attractiveness, etc. Then
they had the students put on either a sweater or a swimsuit. Some got more
questions about "body shame" and others got math problems to solve.
And, just to rub it in, they were all offered a couple of cookies. Already, we
all know where this is going. I'm not sure what's more appalling: that someone
still needs to prove women are unreasonably ashamed of their bodies, or that
someone needs to humiliate scores of girls to do it. Many of the women in
swimsuits said they felt "disgusted," "ashamed" or
"disgraced." They also did poorly on an advanced math test. And all
this time I thought it was men who lost all higher brain function when a woman
put on a swimsuit. The women who felt most ashamed of their bodies refused the
cookies, whether or not they were actually overweight. Thin women were just as
likely to say they felt ugly as heavy ones. So what we have here, in summary, is
healthy women putting on swimsuits and being so paralyzed with self-loathing
they are unable to eat or do long division because they believe their thighs are
the size of the Graf Zeppelin. Who's surprised? The only startling thing
about this needless and diabolical exercise is that it was dreamed up by a
woman, Professor Tomi-Ann Roberts. Meanwhile, and I know you're wondering, the
math performance of the guys in the study was the same no matter what they were
wearing. They admitted to feeling only "silly" or "foolish"
in their swimsuits, no doubt rightly. There are thousands of kinds of women's
swimsuits, but only two styles for men - goofy or inadequate. Even with her
impressive grasp of the obvious, though, Professor Roberts is capable of
wandering off into the utility closet. When it was pointed out to her that many
women enjoy, for example, wearing short skirts because they look good in them,
she said, "When you sit in a boardroom and look like Ally McBeal, with your
skirt up to your crotch . . . how good of a lawyer can you be if you're worrying
whether too much leg is showing?" OK, let's unpack this quote a little.
First of all, a woman who enjoys wearing short skirts because she thinks or
knows she looks good in them isn't tying up mental energy hating herself. Her
mind is free to focus on other things, for the same reason a woman who likes
hats and thinks she looks good in them isn't obsessing about whether her head
looks big. And in any case, if she tried the skirt on in one of those ghastly
dressing rooms with the fun-house mirror and the unspeakable lighting, and
purchased it, and put it on to come to work this morning, she is not worrying
whether too much leg is showing. Being forced into a swimsuit by shrinks with
clipboards is not at all the same as choosing your own apparel. Second, it seems
plausible that if a woman is comfortable in what she is wearing, whatever its
length or brevity, she will do an effective job. The women who forgot their
multiplication tables in the study did so because they felt controlled, exposed
and miserable, not because there was a draft on their knees. And third, the
reference to TV's "Ally McBeal" is especially interesting because of
the current hoo-hah about actress Calista Flockhart's weight. She is, for those
who missed her near-appearance on the Emmys, extremely thin. While I wish Miss
Flockhart a speedy recovery if she is ill, part of me is kind of glad the
subject finally came up. Yes, girls - and this is a far more useful revelation
than anything coming out of the Colorado study - it is possible to be too thin.
Boniness is not next to sexiness. Women get a lot of bad messages from the
media, messages that make them starve themselves to be more attractive. We know
this. And we know that both men and women encourage and perpetuate unrealistic
ideals. Check the personal ads. "Body shame" is something we have to
fight ourselves, each in her own way. It's not easy. I have enjoyed excellent
health all my life, though my weight has fluctuated, and at the beach I am the
first one to tie a sarong around my shame and disgust. But if people can look at
a frankly emaciated actress and suggest that she's too thin, that's a start.
We've known for a long time what the problem is, and why. Researchers should be
working on what to do about it.
Samantha Bennett's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
September 7, 2008, 10:32 pm
Y-3: Men in Skirts
It’s a sure bet my husband won’t go for it, but some of the more
arresting looks during Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3 show with Adidas
were the dresses and skirts — on men.
Y-3 Spring 2009 (Photo: Getty Images)
One model looked positively…surprised to find himself walking the runway
in a clingy, translucent maxi dress, but my personal favorites were the guys
in gathered black skirts, hemmed below the knee and gathered at the pockets.
Designers have been introducing pajamas as street wear for men this season
and Jean Paul Gaultier has been trying to put men in skirts
for years, but it’s doubtful that the German athletic giant really expects
its male customers to get so loose with fashion.
Those same skirts and dresses will assuredly be sold to women when they
reach stores — placing them on male models is the sort of wink-wink antic
that keeps the fashion crowd awake. Moreover, it shows that the edgy Mr.
Yamamoto presses the edges of the envelope even when designing an
athletic-inspired collection for a mainstream goliath like Adidas.
The rest of the collection displayed little of the inside-out
experimentalism of Mr. Yamamoto’s other lines. With skirts fashioned from
fleece, capri pants, and other athletic-inspired pants, shorts, dresses and
tops, most of the Y-3 collection was designed to sell clothes to consumers as
much as to inspire bored fashion editors.
The show was not the budget-less lollapalooza of previous seasons, though.
Following collections presented in a basket ball stadium and against a tall
wall of ice (last season’s frigid show included down-soft fleece blankets
for each guest), Sunday evening’s collection was smaller and less
extravagant than previous shows, largely due to the West 22nd Street venue,
which was hastily contracted and decorated with fluorescent bulbs after
another venue fell through, said a spokesman. He added that he wasn’t aware
of any budget cut-backs. –Christina