Let's hear it for women with meat on their bones

February 02, 2003|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

WASHINGTON - It may be the ultimate weight loss plan.

No diet, no exercise, no surgery, no pills. Just a little digital wizardry.

Point and click here, point and click there, and unwanted pounds melt magically away - from your photographed image, that is.

This is what the British edition of GQ magazine recently did, altering photographs of actress Kate Winslet - without her knowledge or permission, she says - to give her that svelte look common to heroin addicts and supermodels.

Ms. Winslet has responded angrily.

"This is me," she says. "Like it or lump it. ... I'm not a twig, and I refuse to be one. I'm happy with the way I am."

Let the church say amen.

Ms. Winslet, it should be pointed out, is not what we delicately describe as a "plus-size woman."

She's just a woman with womanly curves, some of which she displayed quite openly in her star-making turn as Rose in Titanic.

I wish I had a convenient theory for when and why womanly curves became a bad thing, wish I could explain our fascination with a kind of woman who does not, as a rule, exist in nature: Stick legs, sunken cheeks, waist in to here, chest out to there.

It was not always thus. I mean, by those standards, sex symbols of an earlier era would never have heard the first wolf whistle. Marilyn Monroe was not, after all, a bean pole. And that famous pinup of Betty Grable, which, we are told, inspired the GIs to go out and win World War II, did not show a woman who had missed many meals.

By contrast, a 1997 Psychology Today article reported on a researcher who had quantified the fact that Playboy centerfolds and Miss America contestants - purported icons of feminine physical perfection - had been getting skinnier over the years.

Our perception of beauty has changed. And if you're wondering why that matters, it's because our girls are watching. Watching and learning from all this how it is they should be. Much of what they have learned has proved dangerous, if not deadly, to body and spirit.

Approximately 5 million to 10 million women and girls (and 1 million boys and men) suffer from eating disorders - primarily anorexia and bulimia - which are sometimes fatal. That same Psychology Today recounted the results of a body image survey of 4,000 women and men. Almost 90 percent of the women wanted to lose weight.

Score one for pop culture. I mean, one of its primary functions is to make us dissatisfied with what we are, make us want what it is selling.

Right now, it's selling the canard that the average supermodel's body is achievable or even desirable for the average girl. And girls are getting sick, even dying, as a result.

There are those feminists who would argue that the solution is for men to stop objectifying women, but their reasoning flies in the face of human nature. If somebody hadn't objectified somebody else, none of us would be here to argue about it. And anyone who doesn't think women fantasize about a masculine ideal has never seen a soap opera or romance novel.

I'm not out to stop - as if I could! - the endless mating dance of male and female. I'd just like to see something done to protect our girls and women from its more insidious effects. Just like to see the gatekeepers of media become more conscientious about depicting the beauty of women and girls in all its dimensions.

Not just breasts, but brains, heart, humor, compassion, love.

It is a pipe dream, yes. So I guess those of us who care about such things will have to be satisfied with concentrating on those girls closest to us - our daughters, our nieces, our sisters and friends - and exhorting them to value themselves for ALL the things they are.

I tell my adolescent daughter that there's going to come a day when someone will seek to evaluate her by the same cold, meat-market standards by which GQ evaluated Kate Winslet. I hope, when that day comes, she has enough love for herself to respond as Ms. Winslet did.

"This is me. Like it or lump it."

For the record, Kate: Like it. Like it a lot.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. He can be reached via e-mail at lpitts@herald.com, or by calling toll-free at 1-888-251-4407.

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