Friday, May 25, 2012

Fun Fact Friday: Deborah Rhode's The Beauty Bias, Chapter 2

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Stanford University Law Professor Deborah Rhode speak at a screening of the film, MissRepresentation.  (BTW, if you have not yet seen this film, get thee to your Netflix queue, ASAP!  I've done the work for you, just click here!) Anyway, as I would have expected from her fantastic book, The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance In Life and Law, in person, Deborah Rhode was both articulate and sharp as a tack.

Chapter 2 of The Beauty Bias  ("The Importance of Appearance and the Costs of Conformity") is the first course reading assigned for my seminar on Gender, Appearance, and Inequality.  Last week we discussed one of Rhode's arguments regarding the double standard women face when they are told both that their looks are of crucial importance, and also that vanity is shameful.  (Hence, the irony of "effortless beauty"!)

For today's "Fun Fact" post, I've selected a few more thought-provoking quotes and facts from Chapter 2.  Each week I have my seminar students write reading responses that explore their thoughts about what they've read.  I've chosen some of the passages that they found most interesting.  I hope you enjoy them!  I've also thrown in a few discussion questions for your consideration.
"Much of the effort and concern that individuals now invest in their appearance could be better spent on relationships with family and friends, and on paid or volunteer work that leads to personal growth or makes a meaningful social contribution." (page 30)
Question: Do you think this is true?  Where would you draw the line on giving up some of your beauty rituals?  How would you use the extra time (and money!)?  
(BTW, I kind of put this concept to the test during my year without mirrors and found it to be mostly true for me!)
"Many weight reduction techniques, whether or not associated with eating disorders, [..] raise concerns.  A recent New Yorker cartoon parodies the extent to which dieters are often prepared to go: an oarsman on a galley ship boasts to another: 'I dropped twelve pounds the first week and kept it off!'  For some women, smoking is the functional equivalent.  Fear of weight gain is a major deterrent to quitting.  Three-quarters of surveyed female smokers are unwilling to put on more than five pounds as a result of stopping; nearly half will not tolerate any increase." (page 40)
Holy smokes!  (pun intended) Not giving up cigarettes due to fears of gaining 5 pounds?  People!  Don't you realize how DEADLY cigarettes are compared to mild weight gain?!  I've read similar statistics, for example, that most teenaged girls would rather be run over by a truck than be fat.  These statistics illustrate that fear of fat has a whole lot more to do with stigma than health, no?

Question: What are your feelings about this?  Is gaining weight your greatest fear?  (BTW, it used to be mine, but I realized being unhappy and unhealthy was far worse than being a bit chubby.  Sometimes I still have body-image crises, but I do my best to stay strong!)
"Many of the mental health difficulties associated with appearance are the product of widespread social stigma and discrimination.  Beginning at early ages, children develop an aversion to individuals who are overweight or unattractive, and those individuals are teased, ridiculed, and ostracized.  By age nine, anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of girls want to lose weight.  [...]  Obesity carries as much stigma as AIDS, drug addition, and criminal behavior."  (page 41)
Question: Was your body image at age 9 better or worse than it is today? Why?

Alright, that's all I've got for now!  I'm headed to bed with only a few hours to sleep before Michael and I head to the airport for a weekend in Louisville, KY with friends and family.  Happy (early) Memorial Day everyone!


  1. To answer your question about body image at age 9 and now, I wasn't even aware of body image at age 9 - I was too busy just being a kid. It's so sad that that's not the case for ALL 9 year-olds. As I have gotten older, I realize that my body is the "gift wrap", so to speak, for the person who I am on the inside. It's by no means perfect, but I love it because it's mine.

    1. I like what you said, that you were "too busy just being a kid." I was probably 9 when I started worrying about my body and my looks (one side effect of early development!). But I do miss the loveliness of thinking more about what your body can do, than what it looks like...

  2. I think I can count myself lucky that body image was never an issue in my household growing up. Living on a farm, the animals didn't care what you looked like at 5 a.m. So as long as they were tended to. And living in an agricultural community, there really wasn't much emphasis on it from my classmates as well.

    It wasn't until I graduated and moved out into the real world when I began to be affected by body image. There were those who looked down upon me based on my choices to not wear make up and wear blue jeans and t shirts. And, yes, I am overweight. Surprisingly, that has affected me even less than the whole "fashion" issue.

    1. It's so awesome how many women have brought up their animals when talking about body image... moms also talk about their kids in this way.

      Interesting to me that fashion has seemed more influential on your life than weight. Other women have told me the opposite, but I think it would obviously depend on every person's unique circumstances!

  3. Hm, to answer your discussion question...I quite liked my body at age 9. I liked its ability to run and climb and how light I felt in it. Before reading this post I would have said that I had no body image issues, but I am a obviously there is a mental disconnect somewhere in my thinking. In terms of the obesity issue, I see it as a public health problem at least as important as smoking if not more so. I have felt the ostracism of being a smoker and it has been quite the lesson in the ways people judge.

  4. Hi Terri - awesome to hear from you as always! Yes, smoking and obesity seem to be in the arena of "stuff people feel just fine judging you about." In both cases, we've had government sponsored "stigma" campaigns, that were literally designed to make people feel awful about themselves (and to make other people feel okay shaming these folks) about their habits. In the case of smoking, there seems to be some evidence that the "shaming" approach has "worked" (at least from a public health standpoint! and also thanks to greater regulation), but in the case of obesity it's been a huge failure. Both issues are hugely complex, but it concerns me whenever a public health policy is based on "shaming" people into better health. Not only does it seem just plain mean, but there's a lot of evidence that feeling stigmatized is, itself, bad for health!!

  5. I thinking weighing in at home through WW online has helped my with the weight thing. I do always wake up in the morning, though, worried a bit about it. But the numbers don't lie and tell me whether I've had a good week or need to be healthier.

    I didn't think about my weight much when I was 9. I was shy, and that was probably a bigger social hindrance. At 16, though, that's a different story -- I was definitely worried about it then. Mostly because my friends were, and it's sort of catching.

  6. I loved the questions you asked this week. In fact, I spent some time journaling and thinking about them. Like many of the other ladies here, I think my body image was better when I was 9. When I was 9, I was still just enjoying the function of my body: playing, dancing, climbing trees, etc. It's interesting to note that I was also not that concerned with food. Playing was more important than eating. I was not tempted to use food to soothe myself. I couldn’t wait to get up from the dinner table to go play again. It’s interesting that as we get older food begins to serve many other functions in our lives besides satisfying hunger. And as food plays these new roles, our activity levels tend to decrease, and, as women, we become more focused on our bodies. On the flip side, when I am more physically active and enjoying my body in that functional way, I feel more confident and worry less about my weight/shape/appearance.

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