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Pure As the Driven Slush (Personal Journal)
Make no bones about it... these are dangerous curves.


Marilyn Monroe
Size 10 - 14


Kate Dillon
Size 18


Anita Ekberg
Size 12


Janeane Garafolo
Size 10 - 12


Sophia Loren
Size 12


Cassandra Wilson


Drew Barrymore


Aretha Franklin
goddesses defy size


Kate Winslet
Size 8 - 14


Alexandra Beller


Rachel Weisz
Size 8 - 12


Thora Birch


(Sizes listed are based on published body measurements, not on listed dress sizes.)


My pal Seska
size 8 - 10
April 22nd, Two Thousand Two: Dangerous Curves

Okie dokie, it's time for me to stop everything and do some body-image cheerleading, thanks in part to a reader who was brave enough to make this commentary in her blog the other day (which only came up repeatedly in my logs likely because her readers all rushed over to see if there really was a naked "fat" girl somewhere):

Just hopped over to Heather's site as I am known to do after going to Trance's. I am not a daily reader of hers more like an every other day reader. She is a fascinating woman. Anyhow, she has new pictures up. She is nude. Now this isn't new on her site but this is what went through my head "Oh my God she is fat. How could she put up those pictures? Her breasts are saggy. She's very round." I looked at the pictures for a few more minutes and thought "She looks very curvy. Women are supposed to be curvy. Wow she is actually quite stunning. She looks comfortable in her skin. She couldn't actually be enjoying her body could she?" As if the mere thought that a woman who isn't adolescent boy shaped with breasts couldn't be happy in her skin. As if that ounce of cellulite would stop your from enjoying your body. That women should look like women. Curves are not evil and breasts are beautiful.

This is what the starvation imagery does to your brain. This is what looking at photoshopped models as goddesses does to your sense of perspective. This is what wanting to look like Calista Flockhart does to your brain. This is what having disordered eating does to you. No matter what my weight is all I have ever seen was the fat... (finish her entry here)


It may actually be the first time in my life that someone has called me fat and it made me feel not bad, but incredibly good (though: Hey! on the breasts bit. I pass the pencil test, dammit! But it's just a matter of time... breasts will eventually sag, and that's okay). This sort of reaction is better than fifty thousand people calling me a goddess; this simple realization that not only can curves, can being physically healthy at an average size, be sexy and beautiful, but that it came through that one can love their body to pieces at any size. Hooray for me!

But I have to be honest, for starters: I don't buy the notion that the media forces the opposite down anyone's throat. I've said it to the girls at Scarleteen, and I'll say it again here: that damn box has an off button, and all you've got to do is get up and turn the fucking thing off. No, we can't not see huge billboards, and yes, the Dachau or plasticine images are in movies, in film, in magazines, what have you. But we do get to choose not only what media we engage in (and thus, support financially so that it continues), but also how much credence and weight we give to it. We do get to choose to surround ourselves with very different messages if we just get up off of our asses (see, it even burns calories! Oh boy!) and do it. To say that none of us have the power of critical thinking over the media, and that we simply absorb everything like sponges is not only to say women are not beautiful no matter their size, but that women are also bloody well stupid. And we're not. I'm not, you're not. So, if you're using that cant to defend or justify making yourself unwell or hating your body, cut it the fuck out, because you know better, and you're smarter than that. At 2, that argument might work. At 30, when I hear that come out of women's mouths I have frankly wonder if they're simply trying to say either they're just stupid or that they think I am.

It'd be a bit like my saying my addiction to cigarettes is due not to my own issues, my own addiction, but because everywhere I go, I see people smoking and I see ads for cigarettes and they would be an incredible load of bullshit were I to attest such. No one makes me smoke but me. Lots of people eat meat, too, but I don't want to do it, and no one else eating it makes me want to. I see people being terribly nasty to each other, abusing their children, wasting their lives on meaningless drivel, but they can't make me do those things by doing them within my viewing area; by doing them en masse, by doing them with cultural permission. Critical thinking: it's a good thing to keep handy.

The media has the power it does because we give it that power: we fuel it not only with attention, but with our money, and because enough of us don't offer any resistance to the messages it is sending. I have had many readers over the years write in and ask why at Scarlet Letters we don't have more visual erotica with photos of real-sized women besides a small few of us. And the answer to that is not that photographers won't shoot it. The answer to that is that most women won't take a chance and model. Now given, not every woman can do nude modeling for reasons that aren't about body dysmorphia. But quite a lot can and simply don't, and not getting those images out there actually contribute to the problem. Flat out, let me make an offer: any local real-sized woman -- and by that I mean women who are not starving themselves to death on purpose, be they a lithe size 2 or a lush size 26 -- who wants to shoot some photos to beef up body image, even for her own private viewing alone, can contact me and I'll shoot you for free: that's always been my policy. You'd be amazed, I assure you, at how differently you see yourself when someone else is looking at the beauty in you. It's never that hard to find when you don't see someone through a dysmorphic lens.

You can do other things: don't buy the damn magazines with the walking skeletons in them. Better still, don't buy them, but pick up the subscription inserts off the floor of the magazine store, take them home and instead of your address, write on the lines: "I'll be happy to subscribe when you start including more diverse real-sized women and men." And send it in. The postage is on them, and ain't that fabulous? When your local clothing store is out of all the 8s, 12s 0r 16s, or when they don't even carry your size, file a complaint or make a gentle suggestion to the manager. You could tell them what the average women's size is, but they already know that since they run out of them so damn fast. You're the consumer: it's YOU that has the power, but only if you use it, sister.

I don't mean to be a jerk, but I think some of you chickies out there need to hear this. When you lose a ton of weight by not eating, while some folks might think your body looks great, I have to tell you: most of the time people who have starved themselves into those 4s, 2s or 0s look really, really awful. Your skin, for starters, suffers horribly, and makeup doesn't hide those dark circles or the slack skin hanging off your bones well at all. Mousse doesn't fix the thinning hair. Toothpaste doesn't hide the halitosis. The tanning booth a lot of you rush to to try and hide the sallowness that happens when you don't eat doesn't hide it, either. It's totally visible; we all see it. The bones sticking out all pell-mell when it's obvious your body type wasn't built that way? It looks atrocious. Sure, it turns heads, but so did concentration camp victims, folks. And no one, no one is buying that you aren't starving yourselves, in the same way that no one is going to buy the denials of someone clearly killing themselves with overeating. People may be telling you you look great because they, too, buy into the Image Factory. People may be telling you you look great because they -- not having been in that place themselves -- think it symbolizes you having a sort of power, rather than trying not to be as powerless as you feel by "conquering" food and your body. People are more than likely telling you you look great because they're too scared or selfish to try and help you out of that awful place (maybe because they're there too, and don't know how), and they figure it's what you want to hear and hearing that might make you stop killing yourself without them having to get actively involved, or acknowledge how much they might be enabling you. Or look at how they enable their own body negativity.

I can tell you the difference between how healthy and unhealthy looks even from seeing myself over the years, from the years I got as thin as I get not because of purposefully starving myself, but because I was poor enough that I had to go without eating all too often. I looked like ass. Did I look more like the current ideal? Probably, but the current ideal looks like ass without a lot of help, too. Did it look decent in photos? Sure, because photos do put weight on, and because lighting can do a helluva lot, as can touchups. But you know, despite the fact that like anyone else, I've got my own body issues, I feel a lot better about my looks now, and I look a lot better -- not in terms of fitting a mold, in terms of looking healthy, looking happy, looking whole, in my thirties at an average size and healthy than I did at 25, too thin and unhealthy. And that is what people find beauty in -- I know because it's a part of my living, and to be plain, my users are not chubby chasers. If they were, I'd dissapoint. The feedback I get, and the feedback other sites that promote me get about me, about my physical appearance is that I'm sexy as hell, flatly, and that women are comfortable and feel good with viewing my work because I'm real. And I didn't hear that half as much when I wore a 4 instead of a 10, when I was in my teens and twenties, not my thirties: in part because less people said it, and in part because I didn't feel good enough about myself to be able to actually hear it.

I can also tell you something else in terms of what I know from sexuality studies and surveys: a lot of people who are attracted to that waify, this-close-to-your-deathbed-look (and I'm not talking about women who are naturally tiny, thin or lithe -- I'm talking about women who have starved themselves there intentionally and who are clearly not healthy) are attracted to it because it makes you look -- and in the worst cases, makes you literally -- docile, weak and easily overpowered (and if you are not starving yourself and keep ending up grossy underwieght and feel horrible, please go to the doctor -- in a lot of instances, it is a glandular, metabolic or nutritional problem that is treatable: sometimes even when you're not doing it intentionally, it isn't always healthy). In other words, because you don't look like real, grownup, strong, powerful and healthy women. If you want someone to be attracted to you for those reasons, that's your business. But you might want to think about if that is what you really want. It sure isn't what I want.

And if you buy that nearly all the celebrities you admire aren't starving themselves to get as thin as they are, you're being a big fat sucker. Given one of the current A-list anorexia idols is someone I went to high school with, I can assure you that it isn't her "quick metabolism" that causes her to be so thin, because unless you've got a thyroid problem, your metabolism does NOT speed up when you're over a woman 30 (and she is over 30, to boot, not the 29 she's been for the past three years), it slows down, and she weighed a heck of a lot more at graduation than she does now. And she looked a whole lot better then, too. Ten bucks says she felt doubly better.

Want to know something scary?


A size 1/2, which is purportedly the average size of your run-of-the-mill Hollywood starlet now is the same size as a 6/8T. That's right, the size for your average 6-8-year-old girl.


Let's all sit for a minute and let that sink in. If it has sunk in, it's scary. If that isn't scary to you, it's time to think about why not. Because without making value judgments, anyone in their right mind at 20, 30, 40 would be worried if their bodies hadn't changed from the time they were 8 years old. If we knew anyone like that, we'd suggest they see a doctor (excepting women of certainshapes and creeds that simply naturally ARE that small). If we heard that about women in a third-world country -- that many of them are the size of 6-8 year-olds -- we'd be ringing up UNICEF or Amnesty International to find out how to help with the apparent food shortage. Imagine our reaction if we were told that there wasn't one, that women were intentionally and with great effort doing so to themselves, harmfully, to meet a cultural standard of beauty. And yet, while western people cringe at things like foot binding or FGM, we not only turn the other cheek to, but actively or passively encourage our fellow women to starve not just their bodies, but their spirits.

While we're on 8-year-olds, let me tell you something I know from teaching them: young girls learn their beauty ideals and their eating and body care habits from their mothers and other older women close to them. So, when you prattle on about how ugly and/or fat (and have you noticed that fat and ugly have somehow become synonyms in popular use, and how few people are questioning that?) you are, they hear every goddamn word. They don't miss it when you spend every waking minute counting calories or measuring portions. It's why -- not because of Britney Spears and that ilk -- I had girls in my class who were eating disordered and body dysmorphic by the time they were ten. Ten. That's the legacy they were carrying on from their mothers, aunts, older sisters, handed right down to them in every thoughtless comment, every awful magazine left lying around, every fat-free food in the fridge, and it can positively verge on homicide. If you can't get out of the nasty cycle of body hatred for yourself, do it for everyone's daughters. Please. And if you don't do that for them, guess what? The problem isn't the media anymore: it's you. It's YOU who are sending those messages.

There aren't easy answers to this, it's hard, hard work. And it's work that involves being really honest with yourself and taking some chances. It's work that means being willing to recognize that wanting to escape out of your body into a celebrities body is less about wanting their body than it is about wanting their lives; wanting an escape from your life, or your feelings about yourself. It's work that involves self-acceptance, which on many levels, is all of our own life's work. It's work that means choosing to take the harder way out: it's a million times easier to focus on your hatred or dissatisfaction with your body than it is to do so about your life -- and if you think becoming thin is going to change most of your life, I assure you, you're really mistaken. If I had a dime for every eating disordered woman or woman who wasted years of her life dieting only to find out that she had the same set of damn problems no matter her size, I'd quite literally be a millionaire. Again, we should all be smarter than that: nothing in life is that easy. It's just not. Hell, if every woman who obsessed on her body and body image just knocked it the heck off today, we could probably change the world in about ten minutes flat with all the time and energy we'd suddenly have.

It's also harder to be positive than to be negative, especially about your body, and especially as women (and it often appears heterosexual women have far greater problems with this than queer women), with women, because many of us have been reared to be self-hating to distract us from empowering ourselves and the women around us. And all too many of us -- even those who wave the feminist flag high -- are feminism's worst enemy in that respect. Look, if you can't even find ways to love women's bodies, real bodies, there's no way in hell you can effectively love women's minds, women's ideas, women's power. If we can't empower something so simple as physical appearance, we are completely doomed with the more important issues.

Hating yourself for your body is no different than hating yourself for your ethnicity or your biological gender: you can only change it so much (remember that even "safe" dieting only works long-term for less than 10% of people, a number that has come up in any and all serious long-term studies on dieting), and it is a part of you. When you put energy into hating it and beating it up, that's energy put into hating yourself and beating yourself up, neither of which are ever productive or healthy. I'm not the world's biggest Naomi Wolf fan, but she was right on target in The Beauty Myth when she said, "She wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world to change to truly see her."

I feel better about myself today because Kathryn's initial negative reaction to my body, which shifted her thinking to a postive and new view, spoke greater volumes than a lot of initial-positives. I feel even better because my willingness to put that body out there had that one small positive impact today; its results directly tangible. I feel better because my physical appearance had an important emotional effect: it transcended simply being image. I feel better to look at some of the photos above (many of which I keep in a little file for myself for the times I too feel low about my body) and see their resemblance to my body and self than I do to look at photos which send a message that my body or self isn't acceptable, isn't beautiful, isn't sexy, isn't functional. Or the ones that don't resemble my body so much, but which give me some good perspective on beauty and how completely masochistic our culture's current ideals can be right now.

(Note, they range in size from 8 - 18+ and are not only all breathtaking women, but were all pretty damn healthy and natural. Some were actually very thin in the past, and feel better being a larger size, like Kate Dillon, for instance. Suffice it to say, your pictures don't have to be my pictures -- these are some of the ones I find empowering for me that represent female physical beauty, and I figured I'd start you all off easy with the ones that most fit current or recent beauty ideals, scaled up just a couple sizes. And don't give me that malarkey about "Well, you're not talking about finding them sexually appealing, that's different," because I'm queer, and I assure you I do find most of them sexually appealing. And if you're going to the pull the "Well, you're not a man," thing, I will gladly take up the gauntlet of telling all my male readers and members to write in and talk about real-sized women, and the letters will go on for days, and you'll be sorry you asked. And tell me any of the above women are not stunning and I will promptly laugh in your face.)

You know, even if no one else in the world agrees with me, it doesn't make much difference if I feel that way about myself (conversely, if I don't feel good about myself, all the compliments in the world can't fix that). And no one -- no magazine, no video, no weight chart, no movie -- can take that away from me, because I'm stronger than they are, and because my body is very real, unarguable evidence that it is what it is just as it is. It can be a little smaller, a little bigger, overall or in certain places, more or less fit, but as long as I'm engaging in some basic, sane care of it, it's pretty much just that: my body, looking like my body.

And the benefits of that are huge. I never have to worry, for instance, that someone I'm dating only likes me for what I look like, or only is attracted to me because I fit a current ideal. I can enjoy food, enjoy cooking, enjoy eating because I know I'm eating what's good for me (or isn't, but that I won't make a habit of eating junk), and because food to me isn't about calories, it's about smells and tastes and color and memories. My body makes me feel like the original I am, not like a cookie-cutter mold. It represents life, not death. I could go on for days, really, and that in itself is pretty incredible because on the scale of positive body image, I'm not even really that high sometimes -- but I'm a lot higher, sadly, than most women these days are. Than even many preteen girls are. Ironic as it may seem, the person in my life who has a better body image than anyone I know, who is a tremendous role model for me on that score is Hanne, who is not a size 2, not a size 12, not even a size 18, but who is a dyed-in-the-wool Big Fat Fabulous Chick. And you know, if someone like Hanne can get there (Want to talk about a body type that gets dissed all over, for which there is no representation? Ha, we size 10s and 14s have it SO easy in comparison) -- or someone like the remarkable amputee Vera Little -- we all can get there. If someone like the full-body burn victims I saw in the hospital my mother worked at as a kid can deal, we can deal. We all just need to grow some damn balls, is all.

And show them to the world with a real big smile. Maybe naked.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
More body image: This has created an awful lot of dialogue (and traffic, yipes! My bandwidth bills will be the death of me), and so I continued with some additional thoughts here.

Addendum, April 23rd: I have recieved some truly incredible email and responses about this entry from women with their own body image stories, and to be honest, these letters are completely blowing my mind in terms of their honesty, their visceral nature, their personal truth. And that's not easy. So by all means, if you want to talk about this with me, if you want to share your story, bring it on. And thank you to those that have. I am in awe of all of you.

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