Celtic Chimp posted this comment on another thread, and it inspired me to write a new post:
I have never understood how women can have such a wrong impression of themselves. Healthy, beautiful women obsessing about their weight. If women could just see themselves from a blokes perspective for five minutes they would be very confident! I and most men I know find very thin women to be extremey unattractive. Now I'm not saying it is all about what men want or that that is why you lot do the whole weight thing but it is most perplexing to us men-folk. Whilst I agree that aiming that sort of complete bollox at young girls is completely irresponsible, I do think that adult women have got to take some responsibility and teach girls a little common sense. Maybe when their mothers stop fretting about their weight and image so much they will follow suit.
Well, Celtic Chimp, here's the thing: The pressure to be thin is not about what men want. It's not about sexual attractiveness. It's about power.
As you point out, many men--maybe most men, I don't know, as I'm not a man--do not find extreme skinniness sexually attractive. So the thin-is-sexier argument doesn't wash. Most men I know want women to look like women, not prepubescent boys.
No, this is about power. It's about wanting women to be small in the world, to take us less space, literally and metaphorically. This of course is not a new idea; it's one of the underpinnings of first wave feminism, and sadly it still holds true.
I think there's something else going on here, too. I think so long as women are obsessed with our weight and eating and body image, we aren't focusing on other, much more important things. Anyone who's ever had an eating disorder can tell you that while you're in the grip of one, you have no energy or concentration or ability to frocus on anything else. An eating disorder is a kind of closed loop. A dead end. Something to keep the circuits busy so they don't go exploring.
I think the cultural norms today around women and food and eating amount to an eating disorder, or at least highly disordered eating. Women's "place" used to be in the home; that was the 19th-century way to keep women down. Now, maybe, dieting and exercising and obsessing over weight is taking on that role.
Either way, the result is the same. So long as we're busy weighing ourselves, we will never measure up and never get any bloody real work done in the world. In that sense I think you're right: We, women, have to stand up to the culture, reject the pressure to be thin, protect our children from it.
It's not easy to swim against the current. But it's necessary.
So thanks for making the point. I'd love to hear what my readers think.