Friday, December 30, 2011

The skinny on my friend Roberta.

           Roberta Seid teaches at University of California/Irvine, and is one of my dearest friends, although I don't get to see her often enough. Her book, "Never Too Thin", is a fascinating look at "why women are at war with their bodies".

           The book is an enjoyable and rewarding investigation into the complex sociocultural background that influences women and their view of themselves. If you're at all interested in marketing, you'd better read it.

           For example, according to Roberta, "the democratization of fashion was not merely a vertical movement though the classes, but also a horizontal movement in which the standards and looks of the urban centers spread out and affected a growing uniformity of behavior and dress."

           As media spread these images, women began to believe they could resemble the "beauty professionals" they saw. When a woman read Vogue, she saw women she wanted to be like, even though she knew they lived in a different world. She saw TV stars and even Playboy bunnies put in living situations similar to her own.

           Roberta is an historian, and a diligent researcher. "The proliferation of popular magazines displaying the female figure reinforced larger trends. It dissipated the unsavoriness once associated with displaying the body for public judgement and with starkly physical criteria of  beauty, and so encouraged 'nice' middle-class girls to adopt these attitudes and behaviors," Roberta writes.

          She points out that the feminist movement, in encouraging women to go out into the professional world, tended to accentuate the concern for how they looked.

         At the same time, medical research into such subjects as longevity turned the spotlight on obesity, and when this became popularized, the problem turned from psychology to simply curbing our appetites and diet.

         Roberta's conclusion is worth ingesting. "We have been victims, not of a conspiracy, but of a confluence of developments that created a taste for shrunken, fat-free bodies, and that unleashed a war on one of humanity's most basic needs and delights: food."

        She suggests we take another look at Breugel's painting, "The Wedding Dance." You'll see the same kind of bodies we all see at the mall.

         And those, dear friends, are ourselves, our relatives, and our customers.


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