Sunday, August 05, 2007


Chicago Tribune: "Somewhere along the way, I had become nothing. A zero.
A combination of overwork, Third World travel and problems with A Man (always good for a swing of 5 or 10 pounds, coming or going) and -- Voila! -- my once-healthy body made its way down to a size 0.
There was nothing deliberate or attractive about it. Yet I soon discovered that what should be impossible (When did the absence of a number become a dress size? How did we make nothing into something?) was actually highly desirable, at least to the whisper-thin crowd that floats through Chicago's upscale fashion boutiques.
"Don't even look at the 2s, you're a 0," a Damen Avenue shop owner trilled triumphantly while a fellow shopper looked on, not with pity for a woman emaciated by a Third World virus, but with envy.
"You've lost so much weight!" an acquaintance rejoiced later that week. "It's fantastic! Who is your nutritionist?"
What is going on here? It's bad enough that our dress sizes are shrinking to 0, but so too is our common sense and our understanding of health, wellness and lasting beauty. Most distressingly, our ambitions are shrinking as well.
It sometimes seems that we like our women small, literally and figuratively.
We tell girls that they can be anything, while showing them -- through airbrushed ads and glossy media images -- that their first order of business is to be beautiful. We celebrate Grrl Power while marketing "Property Of My Boyfriend" T-shirts. When Madonna dons a "Mrs. Guy Ritchie" sweat suit, she speaks volumes without saying a word.
Though the dress size of the average American woman is 14, the average fashion model is -- you guessed it -- a size 0. The Hollywood starlets who dot our cultural landscape look just this side of skinny on their good days, and dangerously tiny the rest of the time.
Between the size 14 real and the size 0 "ideal" exists a world of women and girls, many of them pursuing an elusive body type through means that can be psychologically and physically devastating.
We feed the billion-dollar diet industry while denying our own bodies. We accept the premise that being thin will change our lives while failing to see that the pursuit of smallness, sometimes manifested in anorexia or bulimia, can actually shorten our life span.
Fashion designers and magazine editors argue that clothes look better on skinny women. The sad thing is that many of us have bought into that twisted logic. Instead of demanding that designers create fashion that fits real women, we try to refashion our bodies to fit today's most unforgiving styles. All hail the skinny jeans, and whatever it takes to fit in them.
The shrinking goals are another matter, a far more baffling one.
Golden Globe winning actress Calista Flockhart says that becoming a mom has left her with "zero ambition."
Gifted singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, at all of 23 years old, tells Rolling Stone magazine that now that she's made one good album, she'd be happy to give it all up and just take care of her husband. Memo to Ms. Winehouse: Consider where rock 'n' roll would be had Mick Jagger and the boys called it quits after recording "Let It Bleed."
When Hillary Clinton publicly jokes about her problems losing weight, she appears to be speaking in focus-group code: Don't hate me because I'm smart and ambitious. I want to be skinny too.
Much has been written about what it takes to reach the so-called female ideal: the endless calorie counting, the hours on the treadmill, the nip and tuck we hope will make us whole.
The truth is that loving oneself -- and one's body -- is a discipline all its own. It means challenging the images that the fashion industry has foisted on us. It means ignoring the voices that tell us that being healthy is a distant second to being thin. It means celebrating female ambitions -- our own, and other women's -- instead of downplaying or deriding them.
So cancel your subscription to Vogue, tell the next size 14 woman you see that she's gorgeous and banish the word "ladylike."
As for me, I'm 15 pounds heavier than I was as a nothing, and once again a quite ordinary size. The attention of the fashionista set has disappeared. Healthy and happy, I'm waiting for someone to ask me again who my nutritionist is."

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