Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Even Blind Men Prefer Pamela Anderson

Lolling on the beach in Miami, I was preoccupied with last week's New York Times magazine and its "wellness" theme. There was an article on how to raise a daughter to feel good about her body while also preventing the onset of childhood obesity. I personally hate the whole childhood obesity witch hunt. It often seems like another opportunity for people to feel superior to the overweight. I was a chubby kid, just slightly, and persecuted until my mother brought me to Weight Watchers at age 13, where I lost 20 pounds and learned the skills to eventually become an accomplished anorexic. My fear that my so-far naturally slim daughter may someday develop an eating disorder consumes me. I imagine that it's similar to what recovering alcoholics feel about their own children becoming addicted to alcohol. I never discuss weight and dieting in her presence, and the subject is forbidden in our household.

But the subject is never far from my mind. I've struggled with body image problems my whole life, and there's nothing like sitting on a beach surrounded by scantily clad humans to intensify self-scrutiny. One article in the above mentioned NY Times issue analyzed a study about men's preference for women with the "perfect" waist hip ratio. Which, apparently, has been scientifically proven to be 0.7. I don't know what my waist/hip ratio is, but I bet that it is not 0.7. I would like to say to the scientists who decided to pinpoint this fact: what the hell is wrong with you?

Another group of scientists decided to test these findings by gathering together blind men, and asking them to feel up mannequins with various hip/waist ratios. They were wondering if sighted men had these preferences because of visual stimuli, such as Pamela Anderson on Dancing With the Stars. When I read this premise I thought of the funny joke we used to say to each other at Sassy, that we'd like to meet some really cute blind guys. But the bad news is that the scientists discovered that EVEN THE BLIND MEN PREFER THE "OPTIMAL" HIP/WAST RATIO. This was not information I deemed helpful.

I looked around the beach. None of the women, many of them European, seemed to have 0.7 hip/waist ratios, yet the vast majority wore bikinis. I have appeared in a bikini for exactly one summer of my life, the year I was 17. Ever after I have retreated to the privacy of a modest one piece. I have thus far stopped short of a style with a skirt, but I am not making any promises.

While I was contemplating this study, my perfect blond daughter looked at me in my navy blue tank suit. "Mommy, why don't you wear a bikini?" she asked. My guard was down, so I blurted, "I'm too old. Bikinis are for young girls who haven't had babies." Which is not the idea I want her to have at all.


  1. Normally, I'm totally with you on wondering why such specific triggering detail is published in The New York Times. This 0.7 waist-hip ratio thing, though, happens to have made me feel good for a change. I'm a large woman (usually wear a size 12), and I whipped out a tape measure and was delighted to find out that some aspect of my body is "ideal" to a random sampling somewhere. Blind dudes, call me!

  2. The idea that bikinis are for young girls who haven't had babies is intriguing, and worth debating. Much of our distress about image is due to aspiring to look adolescent for longer and longer stretches of our lives.

    I was wondering why the idea seemed negative to you. Our culture instructs us to expect to be sexually alluring into our senescence, but common sense tells me that it might be the root of our unshakable anxieties.

    Personally, I would like to confine the whole culture of sexiness and the look and feel of it to the appropriate times of our lives, so that we could enjoy the other parts of our lives a lot more; without trying to live up to unrealistic ideals about permanent youth and viagra-popping fake sexuality. Why shouldn't we take the cues our declining metabolisms provide and allow ourselves to relax slowly out of relentless sexiness?

    So I would have thought it was a healthy thing to say to my daughter. Who knows what damage I could do unless you help me see the error of my ways!

  3. Interesting. Thanks for posting.

    Your premise assumes that you have to look like a young girl who hasn't had babies to wear a bikini. I don't necessarily believe that, although I don't chose to wear one myself. If someone always wants to wear a bikini, like a lot of the 60 something European women I saw on the beach in Miami, than that's fine with me.

  4. I do agree, I think. Separating sexiness from age is where I'm trying to go, though. And I think your point is that bikinis aren't sexual signifiers, or maybe shouldn't be.

    Now I get it! It's just that appearance shouldn't be about sexiness. But the male gaze (love that phrase) makes it so. How do you teach a kid about the difference between reality as it should be and reality under the distorted lens of the male gaze without harshing her buzz?

  5. I definitely would not get into that with a 7-year-old!