Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Cosmo thinks "normal"-sized women are a new breed

Okay, so remember last month in the December 2012 issue of Cosmopolitan, how Cosmo talked about this "new breed" of men who like, raise their own kids and stuff? Well, now they've "discovered" another breed (that has always been around)... the female celebrity who isn't a size 0. Gasp! They do exist!?
There's a fresh breed of powerhouse in Hollywood today: A smart, beautiful star who's too busy being successful to worry about a few extra pounds.
Yes, that's right. In the January 2013 issue, in the Fun, Fearless Celeb section, Brittany Talarico claims that women who aren't obsessed with being skinny are a new breed and "The New Normal".
With the runaway success of The Mindy Project, there's no question that Kaling is sitting pretty on top these days. But for all the buzz, shes' oddly middle of the pack in one regard: her weight.

"I am not model skinny but also not superfat and fabulously owning my happiness," she writes in her memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). "I fall in that nebulous 'normal American woman' size that legions of fashion stylists detest. For the record, I'm a size 8 (this week, anyway)."
For the record, we love Mindy Kaling for the most part. We were fans of hers back when she was on The Office and although her new show isn't exactly perfect, it's smart and funny, just like its creator. We're glad that Kaling has been able to be successful in Hollywood without meeting our society's screwed up stereotypical definition of beauty (being neither white, nor emaciated). However, we'd hardly say that she is part of a "fresh breed" of women. Yet, Talarico seems to be convinced that she is, among other curvy celebs:
Mindy is hardly alone. Lena Dunham, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Khloe Kardashian Odom... they're all members of the same club: normal-size women who wear a few pounds here or there as a badge of honor -- and with badass equanimity.


It's interesting that Cosmo can call these women "normal-size" and then in the same sentence suggest that they "wear a few pounds here or there". Don't all women wear "a few pounds" somewhere? Even the skinniest woman out there who is a size zero, doesn't weigh zero pounds. By saying that they wear "a few pounds here or there", what they're really saying is that they wear a few extra pounds that they're not supposed to be wearing. If these are "normal-size" women, then lets stop referring to them in this way. Do we refer to women who are super skinny as being "missing a few pounds here or there"? Even the title refers to them as the "New Normal"... as if it isn't actually normal. It's not the real normal, it's the "new" normal. It's the abnormal that we're newly accepting as normal. (And as we've seen in the past, Cosmo has a totally skewed perception of what "normal" weight really is - remember when they called Hilary Duff "plus-sized"?)

Also, who is to say that these women are actually really "normal" size? What is "normal"? Just because they're not excessively underweight does that mean that they really are the norm? The average American woman wears a size 12-14, so at a size 8, Kaling would still be below "normal". Most of the celebs they featured in this article are similar in size. They're curvy, but not big enough to be considered plus-size. Why didn't they focus on any plus-size celebrities? Where's Melissa McCarthy, Gabourey Sidibe, Rebel Wilson, Brooke Elliott, Adele? Aren't they smart, beautiful, successful stars too? Why aren't they part of the new normal? Or are they too "fat" to qualify for this so-called trend of "normal" women?

Regardless, we agree that all of these women are beautiful at their various sizes. However, we're not completely convinced that all of the examples Talarico gave wear these "pounds" as a "badge of honor" or with "badass equanimity". Both Kardashian and Simpson have been pretty public about trying to lose weight. They're constantly running to the press to talk about their weight issues and shilling for various diets (like Weight Watchers), so while they may be good examples of celebrities who are beautiful without looking like they're starving, they're hardly examples of women who don't "worry" about their weight.

And what about the stars who were curvy and proud before it became the so-called "new normal"?  Marilyn Monroe's weight fluctuated over the years and at times she was super curvy, but to this day she is still considered to be one of the most iconic sex symbols our society has ever known. Plus-sized Beth Ditto has posed nude on more than one magazine cover and has been an outspoken advocate for body positivity. Queen Latifah has been successful and confident about her body for a long time... this concept is nothing new. So why is this a new "breed"?

Why does Cosmo continue to act like they've discovered some new pattern, when it's usually a "trend" that has always been around?

I'm thinking that maybe there is a "trend" here, but it's not the actresses who are normal-size and dare to still feel good about their bodies. They have always existed. I think maybe the trend is that for whatever reason these women have managed to actually be successful in show business without being super thin. It's not that they're doing something new or different, but maybe the new "trend" is that we're more accepting of their bodies. Perhaps the "new breed" isn't the celebrities, but the TV, movie and music executives that have actually allowed these not-super-skinny women be on shows and in movies, etc.

And even then, it's not perfect... in order for Melissa McCarthy to get a leading role on a primetime network sitcom, she has to star in a show where literally the entire gimmick is "look, a show about a couple... and they're both FAT!" But at least we're making some progress. And it's not as though male celebrities have ever really had to struggle with the fat-stigma in the same way that women in show business have. A few years ago, McCarthy's Mike & Molly co-star Billy Gardell might have still managed to get a leading role on a sitcom... but Molly would've been played by someone thinner, like in The Honeymooners, King of Queens, According to Jim, and a slew of other shows. (The last TV couple I can think of that looked even remotely like Mike and Molly was on Roseanne in the 80s-90s, but that show was somewhat of an anomaly in a lot of ways.)
These women aren't just fearless; they achieve so much more per pound than most of us could ever hope to achieve in a lifetime. And that's because slipping into a size 00 is not a priority for them. They choose to focus on doing amazing things instead. And with everything they've accomplished so far, we'd say they're in excellent shape.
We know that Talarico and Cosmo probably meant for that last paragraph to be empowering and for the readers to walk away feeling good... but no. The message is trying to be positive, but the language still comes off as slightly negative underneath. "More per pound" almost sounds like the excessive pounds they carry on them are justified by their success... so if they weren't this successful, would we be less accepting of their size? And yet, we could never hope to achieve this level success in our lifetimes, regardless of our weights? "They're in excellent shape" also rubs me the wrong way, because, Talarico is basically saying that they're in "good shape" when it comes to their accomplishments, even though they're not actually in good shape physically. I think her language choices are just a little off.

And the fact that she even had to write this article says something about her and Cosmo's mindset. Why not put one of these curvy celebrities on this month's cover instead of the tiny Carly Rae Jepsen? Why not do a feature on Mindy Kaling or Lena Dunham and not even address the fact that they're not super skinny? Most of the celebs they mentioned aren't even big enough to be called "overweight" by most medical standards, so why are we even talking about their size in this context?

If being "normal" size really is the new "normal", then let's stop talking about it like it's some outrageous new concept and just start actually accepting these celebs for the beautiful, intelligent, creative, successful women they are, without the disclaimer.

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