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October 29, 2009

Treading the 'Streets of Vanity Fair'

Here is an interview with Campbell Brown and Glamour editor in chief, Cindi Leive, talking about how Glamour is embracing "women of all shapes and sizes" and broadening their standard of beauty:

The interview / discussion verges on framing the topic (the mag's move) as some sort of altruistic gesture: "Hey, aren't we great, we're trying to make women feel better about themselves." Brown seems quite pleased and is almost gushing about the endeavor. Her enthusiasm for the subject at hand seems to cloud her journalistic judgment. Don't we want to get to the heart of the "why" in the "Who" "What" "When" "Where" and "Why"?

Glamour is making the move to include regular or larger sized women in its pages on the heels of a huge response to its very small (3x3) picture of semi-nude plus size model Lizze Miller, with her stomach roll showing. Leive alludes to market demand as the driving force behind this "acceptance" towards the end of the interview, but these comments are in reference to designers vs. the magazine: "designers are in this to make money. They wanna' sell their clothes; and particularly at this economic moment, if a larger size woman or even a size 10 or 12 woman has good money that she's gonna' pay for your clothing, of course you're gonna' market to her." At no time, however, does Leive actually recognize or does Brown address the fact that market demand dictates the mag's decisions also. Perhaps the inference is implied, but it would have been nice to see Brown actually take note.

Furthermore, the hypocrisy or shortfall of this "women of all shapes and sizes" endeavor is that the models featured in this and other similar campaigns are bigger than the standard model, but they all still have classically attractive faces and body proportions. If you're going to make a claim of embracing "all shapes and sizes", don't limit it to the neck down or to the standard ratios of beauty. I don't see anyone in the new Glamour spread with proportions that vary from those that define average or above average appearance.

To the extent of including difference beyond size or weight, the mag has eschewed airbrushing. But freckles and fine lines still aren't large enough deviations from the normally accepted standard of attractiveness (in fact, they can at times make the subject cuter or more attractive). What about framing traditionally unattractive forms as having the potential for beauty - a woman with disproportionately short limbs and a de Bergerac nose in an evening gown, posing along the French Riviera. The Dove campaign seems to be more encompassing. One of their recent adds includes the song "Do Your Ears Hang Low" and features woman of varying appearance.

I know it's an evolutionary impulse to be attracted to certain forms (they indicate fitness or health); but society has developed beyond the need for this reliance on our baser instincts. Standards of living and medical technology make it possible for people of varying physical attributes to have the same life expectancy / well being. So why bother discriminating on appearance any longer? I realize it's too much to ask to live in a world of Shallow Hal (when he was in his non-shallow phase). SPOILERS AHEAD For those of you who haven't seen the film, the main character, Hal, at one point begins seeing people on the outside as beautiful as they are inside: e.g. the guys who have dedicated their lives to the Peace Corps and are by normal standards unattractive, to Hal, look like Abercrombie models. Yes, I know that won't happen.

There's nothing wrong with recognizing or appreciating standard beauty among living things. The way one allows their glance to linger on an attractive man or woman is akin to the way he / she admires a tree filled with cherry blossoms longer than one without. As opposed to trees, however, people have feelings and thoughts. The person without the cherry blossoms is part of a shared community and, obviously, interacting with others in that group, vying for the community's limited resources. And in the setting of human communities, physical attractiveness as a standard of judgment causes hurt (unlike our flowerless tree). It results in social hierarchy, prejudice, and self-esteem issues. Hey it's great for the economy (it sells alot of product and keeps alot of people employed). Aside from the personal affects, there is the issue of how the practice of decision making, conscious or not, based on human form, affects the evolution of the species and progress of our society. Assuming that form is not relevant outside aesthetic appreciation (or lack of), then allowing it to continue to shape how we function in our communities is a hindrance to progress.

As aforementioned, these instincts haven't kept pace with advances in science and technology. Over the centuries, humans have learned to condition themselves away from their natural instinct in order to achieve preferred social structures or personal lifestyle. One example is practicing monogamy to have the kind of families that we as a culture want. Also, in the last few decades in particular, people have been changing dietary habits to adjust for the availability of high caloric food. Our ancestors evolved to eat more when any food was available, due to the scarcity of it. Conditioning in these two areas and others is generally accepted, but I have yet to hear the suggestion of conditioning responses to human appearance as a means for advancing culture and human evolution. Losing the response to something that is no longer (or in a much more limited way) relevant to the empowerment of the species seems on its face, like a stimulant to progress. By eliminating those factors that are irrelevant, we can better focus on the development and propagation of those (intelligence, character and personality, etc.) which can make the species better.

The degree to which eliminating response to appearance is possible is questionable. I don't think there could be 100% equality in how people respond. Through enough practice, however, a good result could be achieved, so that there is some improvement. This practice of conditioning would entail the obvious measures: don't look more than you listen; don't look at the form, look at how the form is acting (non-verbal communication is still of course important). Although larger reactions can be limited more easily (decision making, relationship definition), it does not seem (at least not intuitively to me), that the underlying mental response to negative or positive aesthetic stimuli can be negated. And consequently, this response may get expressed out in some way and affect our behavior to some degree (albeit a subtle one).

It seems like there's nothing wrong with maintaining a certain asthetic quality if that is what appeals to you or makes you feel good about yourself. It is a problem when you are judged and treated differently based on that quality - either when you judge yourself or others. Whether or not aesthetic appreciation can be separated from judgment, however, is also questionable. In the case of personal appearance, the individual is actually prepping himself or herself for others, more so than the individual's own aesthetic appreciation (unless you spend the day looking at your reflection). That said, the practice of aesthetic prepping is (primarily, it seems) motivated by the evocation of reaction (positive or appreciative). So, to say that one is working on form for oneself seems like an attempt to ineffectively deny the practice's actual purpose (for the satisfaction of self via the response of others based on the change in placement in the relative scheme of physical beauty). Physical "beauty" is relative, practicing it is inherently an exercise in positioning oneself above others. Thus, can we, as it is generally practiced (being looked at, vs. looking at oneself), engage in the practice of physical beauty / attractiveness without perpetuating the practice of judgment we seek to limit or eradicate?

I wish I could have expressed some of these views more precisely / correctly / accurately, but it seems I lack the requisite background in and lexicon of social anthropology and evolutionary science to discuss properly. Please accept these opinions as a set of introductory questions on the topic.

A Poem quoted by Joseph Merrick (AKA "The Elephant Man"):

This is true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.

If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind's the standard of the man.

October 23, 2009

Dickens Put it Best

It is the best of times, It is the worst of times; I am embarking on a new chapter in my life, I am very unsure of what will be written; I have earned my J.D. and passed the Bar, I still don't have a full time job; I am using the spare time I have to blog, I actually have spare time with which to blog; I am working for an organization whose mission I am strongly committed to, I am working for very little money; I actually have paid employment in my field of study, I still have a grad program worth of debt; I'm learning quite a bit from my job, I am learning quite a bit about great injustices; I am looking out my porch door at a medley of fall and winter colors, I am looking out my porch door at snow; It is the spring of hope, It is the winter of despair; we have everything before us, we have nothing before us.

October 3, 2009


I saw the most BEEEAUTIFUL winter cap online yesterday. It sparkles. It has just enough lurex to give it a subtle, soft glow - like pine needles tipped with frost, beneath a garland of twinkle lights. The cable knit is modern, yet classic (both the 50 story blue glass covered office building downtown and Dickens' London in A Christmas Carol). The colors are reminiscent of a carriage ride with a loved one, through a crisp Central Park, lampposts ablaze and capped with snow - or a stroll down 5th Avenue, sauntering by window displays abound with shades of red and gold holiday cheer. It was cashmere. It was perfect. It was...275 dollars. W-w-what?! Plan B? Buy a wool cap at Target and toss some glitter on it.

Here's the culprit:
Winter dream cap

Sidenote: When a cap is nearly 300 dollars, that shit better be made out of unicorn horns, fairy dust, and the hopes and dreams of my childhood. 'Nuff said.

Another sidenote: I will one day write for the J. Peterman catalog (shaking fist in air)! If you know what I'm talking about here, you've watched your fair share of Seinfeld...or read your fair share of the J. Peterman catalog...