Monday, April 02, 2007

Embraceable Me.

Daughter has entered a phase in her athletic career where she is frequently and intentionally airborne. Gravity being what it is, this also means she is frequently and unintentionally hitting the ground. I have come to view practice as sanctioned falling. In order to keep from gasping and clutching at my throat while shrieking “…my BABY!”, I am careful to bring a magazine, usually of the high-fashion variety. Candidly, I’m not sure that staring at a five-thousand dollar handbag made from the front legs of unborn llamas is any better than watching Daughter hit the ground head-first again, but if I hiss in horror at the magazine, the magazine doesn’t have ammunition for its therapist a decade from now.

This is all in explanation as to why someone with a wardrobe consisting of jeans and striped shirts was spotted reading Vogue magazine. The cover model was Scarlett Johansson and directly next to her tumbling and highlighted hair was the phrase EMBRACE YOUR SHAPE! Briefly, I wondered if this was an order, but decided the exclamation point was just Anna Wintour’s way of saying that she wanted me to, you know, embrace my shape in a non-immediately-groping way and more of an “I’m neat!” way.

Directly below my embracing orders was the sub-heading “Towering, tiny, thin or top-heavy?...What to wear”. I suppose this means the pear-shaped woman, having not been able to be wedged into the alliterative prose, must now die.

According to the cover, I could also rest assured knowing that “Nobody’s Perfect”, that there is a total body workout I can do in ten minutes, and that Ms. Johansson feels she can dress in whatever she wants. Soothed and excited by all this potential and dimly aware that Daughter was airborne again, I dove in.

My first stop: Yves Saint Laurent ad. An Yves Saint Laurent ad starring a streetlamp. No, sorry, that’s a woman. The incredible height and absolute lack of secondary female sexual characteristics threw me off.

Next: Bottega Veneta ad. The dress is pleated and wrinkled over the waist, hips and butt. Thank God some fashion designer heard the cries of women everywhere “…won’t someone add some bulk to my lower half!”. The model appears winsome. In the same dress I would resemble a knitted toilet-paper cozy.

Next: Oh, finally. A model who is my height! Of course, it’s a Baby Gap ad and Caroline the model is 20 months old, but I feel as if Vogue is embracing my height, if not my weight or age.

Oh, here’s Scarlett Johansson in a Louis Vuitton ad. Did you know she feels as if she can dress in whatever she wants? Because I do.

Next: an article. Under a picture of a woman mystifyingly lounging in a metal box is the title: “LEG ENVY. Can fabulous legs be created and fast?” Greedily, I read. The writer is short and even with a regular workout schedule feels as if her legs weren’t ready for the new short skirts of spring. My heart warmed. I’m short! I work out regularly! I’m fairly certain I’m not as ready as I could be for the short skirts of spring! Of course, the writer is pining for the Prada hotpants-and-turban look and I’m just hoping to get one more year out of J.Crew shorts before my legs make toddlers cry. But no matter, Vogue is embracing me while I’m embracing myself! Vogue cares about my appearance and Vogue isn’t ashamed to say so!

The writer, Dodie Kazanjian, plunges into a four day a week Power Pilates program. She doesn’t say exactly how long each class is, but for the sake of argument let’s say each class is an hour. She also swims four days a week at the Time-Warner building, for an hour a day. I don’t know where her Pilates class is, but I am guessing it isn’t in the Time-Warner building, nor do I think Ms. Kazanjian lives in the Time-Warner building. So, we’re up to two hours a day, not including commuting or rinsing the chlorine smell out of her hair.

But wait, there’s more. She has twice-weekly massages and fifteen minutes of daily yoga at home. Fifteen minutes of yoga a day equals one hundred and five minutes. Each massage lasts at least forty-five minutes, so that’s another hour and a half. She also walks to and from her workouts in Masai Barefoot Technology shoes which serve the purpose of maybe firming your butt while certainly being the ugliest and most visible shoes imaginable. She spends the four remaining hours of each waking day applying every cream, gel and scrub Bliss Spa sends over. Her diet, she assures the reader, is Spartan. I’d roll my eyes over this, but she works for Vogue, which means she has probably been on the “chew twice and spit it out” diet before she even headed down this thigh-thinning road. I quake to think of what a genuine fashionista would define as a Spartan repast.

Obviously, as a writer for Vogue, she wasn’t paying for squat, but let’s just guesstimate what this exercise in self-improvement might have cost a less-connected, shape-embracing reader.

I Googled the instructor for Power Pilates; her rate is $125 an hour. $125 times four days a week is $500. She swam at a fancy spa, but let’s be generous and suggest the reader can somehow embrace her shape at the Y. The membership to the YMCA is $500 a year in Los Angeles, so we’ll use that number. Twice-weekly massages are at least $300 in Manhattan. The yoga at home is free, and I don’t know how Dodie let that spending opportunity slip past her. But she makes up for it with the Masai shoes which -- along with being really ugly – cost about $200. Thigh creams, gels, pastes, goos and ointments will set you back at least another $500 if you buy everything on the market and don’t just have it messengered to your apartment when you intone the magic words “…I’m doing a piece for Vogue”.

The total bill is about two thousand dollars and at least three hours a day spent working out, or getting to and from working out. And what did the writer get for a month of this insane amount of effort? Does the final paragraph describe how Ms. Kazanjian was wearing the Prada hot pants while walking up Madison Avenue and just happened to see her ex-boyfriend who looked awful and upon seeing her fell down on his knees and starting moaning for what might have been? No, readers, it is not. Her grand denouement was a half-inch loss on each thigh. Don’t misunderstand me, if I woke up tomorrow and had thighs a half-inch thinner I would be very happy. But if I spend one-fifth of my waking hours working towards something, after four weeks I want something more than the effect I can get from control-top pantyhose.

But this leads inexorably to the grubby little secret of every single fashion magazine on the stands. The one where the writer mentions at the beginning of the article that there is a picture of her and her sister sitting together as children, wearing ballet outfits. Her sister’s legs are thin and hers are not. She can exercise every waking hour of her life and she will not have thin legs. Why?

Because biology is destiny.

Don’t embrace your shape because Anna Wintour says this is the month we do so (before we revert to self-loathing next month). Embrace your shape because you have no other option. I studied ballet for years and wasn’t a bad dancer, but when I was in the front row and could see myself in the mirror I found myself humming “…one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong…”. People genetically predisposed to build muscle mass will build muscle. People genetically predisposed to hold on to fat will hold on to fat. You can fool with your shape a bit, you can make healthy eating and exercise choices, but I am not one leg-lift or a million leg-lifts away from being described as “Willowy”.

I don’t think most women think there is an exercise which would change their height, but how many of us keep going back to magazines thinking we’ll find the diet or exercise plan which will change our build? The magazines know this and will keep offering us variations on “Have a big salad for lunch and do some weight work for a lean look” in order to keep us staring at their ads.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this article bothered me so much, besides the implicit appalling waste of money and time, and it’s this. At no point did the writer ever say she had ugly legs, cankles, what have you. She’s worked out for years, her legs are probably as fit as they are ever going to be and yet she still wrung an article out of the idea that they could be better. Or, rather, different. And the final paragraph was how she made peace with her body by purchasing a Miu Miu dress (Cost-maybe $750) which, along with the right Christian Louboutin shoes (Cost-$400), will make her feel pretty.

I get it. It’s Vogue. They live on ads and advertisers want us wanting stuff, buying stuff. But this was an article about physical well-being in an issue seemingly focused on bodily diversity and it still came down to “You’re not enough, you will never be enough. Buy more stuff”.

Daughter flings herself through the air, gambling that she knows enough and has trained enough to land on her feet. But if she is the gambler, learning to calculate and play the odds, gravity is the casino, and the same goes for genetics. You can try to outthink, outwork, starve or Pilates your genetics, and you might be up for a while. But, eventually, the house wins.


Blogger leahpeah said...

i took my daughter to a screening of the documentary 'thin' because she obsesses over her thighs and various other parts that are too big or too small and i worry that it will turn deadly at some point. our culture is so saturated with the perfect body type and the ironic part is - it doesn't exist. i want her to be healthy and happy and take good care of herself and more than anything i just want her to love the body she has.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was feeling a little smug as I read this, thinking how I have a realistic view of my body. Then I realized I recently spent an hour with Metropolitan Home, trying to figure out a paint job that will give our Dutch colonial the light-filled grace of a San Francisco warehouse loft.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Monogram Momma said...

Quinn, I couldn't agree more! Why can't the magazines tell us to embrace our shape without first telling us how to change it? As you said, there is a little thing called genetics that we certainly can't control, much as we might like to!

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of this is so true. And is what I preach on my blog all the time.

Our media wants us to hate our bodies and to never be happy.

But embracing our bodies, loving them, truly saying, "I love me!" is the first step in stopping the madness. The second step is turning to our daughters and sisters and reminding them that they are perfect just as they are, as well.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

Yeah! Bet the models do the same sort of thing, and after all that time and money is spent, they all get photoshopped in the end;)

7:23 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

I've discovered my purpose on this earth.

It's so other woman can stand next to me and feel good about themselves.

Stand by me and you will be thinner, your skin will be clearer, your hair thicker, your house nicer, your clothes more fashionable, your IQ higher - and the list goes on.

People need me.

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will forever love Jamie Lee Curtis because of a magazine photo shoot she did to show her teenage daughter the "before" and "after" of magazine photos. The article mentioned that it took something like 9 people about 3-4 hours of prep to get the look in the "after" photo.

In other words - even the people in the magazine photos don't really look like that - no wonder fashion magazines create such unreasonable expectations!

4:10 PM  
Blogger Bobby D. said...

You can slim a bit, firm and tone by eating with nutrition in mind and by walking a few miles per day --moving in some normal way, but you can't change who you are. and that goes for the physical side too.
I have been the same weight and height since I was 17 and for years I would diet, even though I never needed to at all!
I'd diet strictly, only to find my body slowly but surely re-set itself to that same weight! How frustrating. Then one day I realized I was supposed to have breasts and hips, and I was never going to have the boyish rail-thin waif look I thought that I wanted. I know my complete disssatisfaction with my slim healthy body began with looking at a picture in a magazine. A picture. A picture in a magazine. I can still see that picture in my brain.
I will never stop getting fresh air, exercise and good healthy meals, because I have always enjoyed those things. But I will never workout like a madperson again to try and become something I am not.

2:49 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

I try to pick up those magazines sparingly, treating them as a rare indulgence that seems like a bit of harmless fun in the moment, but always poisons me for a few days afterwards.

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Where do you live? Can I come over?

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't yet found a way to cure "short", but Weight Watchers has helped me to learn healthy eating habits in the past year!

I've lost about 80 lbs, and can wear size 8-10 jeans for the first time in my life! I know that doesn't qualify for the pages of Vogue, but at 40, I'm okay with that and my graying hair - and I'm pregnant with my second child!

May we and our daughters be saved from the nonsense published in fashion magazines.

3:15 PM  

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