Worth Your Weight

April 16, 2008

Before and After (and Before): The Right to Be Pretty

Filed under: fat acceptance — worthyourweight @ 2:08 am

Is fat acceptance working?

I’d been trying to avoid weight loss ads, but found myself recently paying attention to them … with a new focus.

Before pictures in weight loss ads look GOOD to me! I think FA is working for my eyes, and it gives me hope that we can change everyone’s eyes and add a new way of looking at fat.

Allowing myself the possibility that fat can be attractive, to not automatically discount it because I’m instructed by my culture to do so has lifted the scales from my eyes — well, maybe except for the corner of one eye I use to look at myself sometimes.

I am proof people CAN change how they look at fat! I never thought I could but it’s happening. This is a new one for me, and I credit fat acceptance.

Here’s a woman before and after WLS:

I think she looked great before she had the surgery.

Here’s Christian Finnegan, “Best Week Ever” panelist:

Christian Finnegan

He’s even cuter before.

Here’s another woman, this time after WLD:

She was just as pretty before the weight loss.

These are but three examples. When I happen upon a weight loss ad or a weight loss reality show, I catch myself finding the participants just as attractive as (or even more so) before the weight loss. Yes, the “after” shots in these before&after’s are better quality pictures usually: new hairstyle, make-up, dressed to the nines in well-fitting clothes. But it’s really the confidence the “before” is lacking that the “after” has when basking in societal approval. Confidence is so, so much to do with it. That is exactly what we must claim/reclaim: the confidence to exist just the way we are.

I recently came across my diet journal, which includes various snippets of “thinspiration,” including the “Half Their Size!” People magazine from January ’06 (I got this to plaster on my wall for motivation). Looking at it now, with new eyes, I see how many of the before pix are showing beautiful people the way they are … it’s really the confidence to own themselves that’s lacking, if anything.

One note to myself in my horridly dysfunctional diet journal is that “even plus size YIM avatars look bad.” Jeez, how brainwashed was I?

They actually look closer to “average size” than plus size, IMO. And they look great. I think it’s cool Yahoo Avatars added some plus size outfits. I wish they’d take it even further.

It’s really such a pleasant surprise, this new way of looking at fat. Some imagery not in the before/after vein that has also helped widen my perspective include Beth Ditto on the cover of NME, the adipositivity project (here’s my current fave from there [NSFW]), and — OK, this one’s a bit unusual, but — the guy from the “American Idol” auditions who dressed like Princess Leia from the beginning of Return of the Jedi:

American Idol hopeful dressed as Princess Leia

I may be in the minority on this one, but I think his body looks good with the outfit. And oddly enough, it’s made me think that maybe, just maybe, if I wanted to cosplay as Princess Leia or any character, I could do that and enjoy myself. I never thought this before. Cosplay was definitely out of bounds for me because of my fat, pre-FA.

I realize some people think the “right to be pretty” isn’t important. But I do. Here’s why.

The “right to be pretty” isn’t frivolous. It’s the right to EXIST. To be indoctrinated that NO ONE could ever possibly find you attractive is to negate your very existence. It denies not only your looks but also it says that no other part of you can possibly make up for your looks — your “lack of good looks” eclipses the rest of you as a person. It wants to render you worthless.

“Such a pretty face … if only …”
“All fat women can do to be attractive is their nails.”
WTF? How dare people be so narrow-minded as to dismiss a whole PERSON based on one attribute (fat).

To tell (and convince) fat people that they are unattractive is to dehumanize them. It seeks to make a part of them worthless and that can bleed into other areas of their lives. The “right to be pretty” is a step in accepting the whole person and normalizing fat bodies. The urge to mate is a strong biological drive — if not the strongest (rivaled only by, what, eating and drinking?). Beauty is tied to attraction is tied to love. Teaching a fat person she/he is unattractive forevermore is teaching her that she’s unlovable and unhuman.

It’s a tool of the haters to say (and make us and others believe) fat=ugly. How do those types of people even know if they naturally find fat people unattractive? They didn’t grow up in a vacuum. They grew up in an anti-fat culture! They weren’t allowed to view fat as attractive, if they chose to.

We really can’t pretend that there’s no conditioning involved when it comes to attractiveness. It is not solely biological/genetic/primal. When TPTB decide someone’s “The Hottest” and you just kinda scratch your head. Hrmm. Everyone, it seems, jumps on the bandwagon. Double hrmm. For me, examples include Gisele Bundchen and Jennifer Barretta. I know some find them “hawt” and I can understand why, even though I don’t agree (I especially don’t agree that pool table+bikini is hot, let alone makes any sense).

But sometimes I really do believe regular folks think a certain celeb is hot merely because they were told to. I came across a very interesting comment a few years back that suggested had Hugh Hefner’s preference run toward darker and larger women, that would be the current beauty ideal. It’s a fascinating and scary hypothesis to think that one man has managed to impose his aesthetics on the rest of his culture.

Do you ever get the sense that people just do as they’re told when it comes to what’s/who’s considered attractive? Like, the media decides a certain starlet is über-hot, and all of a sudden, the majority follows suit. I find it especially jarring when the “celebrated hottie” is actually not hot at all. Equally frustrating is when I find a person beautiful, but their body type dictates they aren’t permitted to be considered beautiful. Like why are “butterfaces” (a horrible term, yes) still categorized as “hot,” but the inverse (butterbodies? i.e., beautiful faces with not conventionally attractive bodies) not?

“A resourceful woman who is almost downright plain can achieve the reputation of a beauty simply by announcing to everybody she meets that she is one.”
–Erté

It’s what the media does, too. Many “Most Beautiful/Most Sexy/Most Hottest” are but constructions of the media.

The women (all celebs, natch) considered “the most beautiful in the world” are considered ugly by some. Those same non-fans acknowledge the fans’ ability to find the celebs attractive. Clavicles showing (I remember that part in The English Patient, the Almásy Bosphorous) — I don’t find that in the least attractive, but I can see why others do. That’s what’s missing when it comes to the general view of fat and attractiveness — an as-you-please to be “permitted” to find whatever you like attractive. Again, attracted to versus finding attractive are two different things. I am not attracted to women, but I find a great many of them attractive.

Frankly, I don’t find bones sticking out attractive. I know some do, and I see how they can be seen as attractive. That’s all I ask/hope for when it comes to fat. If you don’t find it attractive (and I don’t believe this is an innate, primal preference at all … I think it can be learned/unlearned), at least open your eyes wide enough to see how someone else can see it as attractive. I mean, it has worked in the opposite direction, hasn’t it? The media has presented us with ever-shrinking ideals, and for the most part, we seem to have accepted them (as a society). Why wouldn’t a more inclusive media representation of beauty not only work in broadening our attraction horizons, but in increasing our respect for everyone, no matter how they differ from us?

And I may be El Capitan Obvious here, but if the media chose to feature different sizes, those sizes would become accepted. If men and women were told it was OK to find a plus-size woman/man attractive by virtue of one being on the cover of FHM or whatever, they would/could find them attractive. They’d be given permission to and perhaps allow themselves or at least others to, too. I wish for a democratic view of attractiveness and beauty. I think a great deal more people are and can be considered attractive than currently “permitted” — by themselves and their societies.

When fat people view themselves as ugly, it reminds me of how fat peoples’ lives are adversely affected by the ill treatment they receive because they’re fat, NOT adversely affected by the fat itself. Perhaps fat people believe they are ugly because of the treatment they receive, not because of their fat itself.

The “right to be pretty” is twofold: from within and from without.

On the right to be pretty from within, here’s a comment I saved from Jezebel.com by girlinterrupted:

“It’s so easy to love yourself. You just DO IT. You wake up one day sick of hating yourself, sick of the energy wasted on hating yourself and trying to change yourself, sick of the fact that whether you are fat or skinny, society will still judge you, and you realize that all you have to do to win is drop out of the fucking race. And you DO IT. It’s so easy.

I have worn a size 14/16 since puberty. I woke up one day with big boobs, big hips, and my period, and that was all she wrote. When I hated myself, I didn’t get hit on. Now I get hit on every day. The only thing that has changed? My attitude.

Seriously, love yourself. It’s so much easier than hating yourself.”

If we can convince ourselves we deserve to love ourselves and be loved (and do it), that would convince us that we don’t deserve the ill treatment. To stand up for oneself, one must respect oneself: the “right to be pretty” represents that self-esteem. It could just as easily be the right to be smart, the right to be industrious, the right to smell good, the right to be fit — anything that contradicts the tired old stereotypes used as weapons against fat people. The “right to be pretty” is a right that’s more than skin-deep. It’s the right to exist in the world. To be seen and looked upon. The right to allow oneself to be seen as pretty. The right to allow others to see you as pretty. It’s really about the right to be seen, to have a visual voice.

On the right to be pretty from without — I’ve covered this quite a bit above, but also a lot of what the “fat is unattractive always” bleaters find attractive IS a result of conditioning. So it wouldn’t kill them to broaden their perspective. I have done so. It came out of the blue and was a very nice surprise, but I just have to wonder since it’s happened for me, can it happen for others?

So, no, fat-haters, I won’t ask you to be attracted to us. I will expect that you find us attractive — in that others have been, can be, and are attracted to us fat people and that you can appreciate why that is, if only you put your glasses on.

We fat people are dismissed on the basis of our looks. Why would it not be a worthy endeavor to fight for acceptance of our looks? According to the rest of the world, our looks and what they (erroneously) “prove” about our character ARE the problem. It’s the justification for discriminating against us. Even when a person concedes that fat is beyond a person’s control and is not unhealthy, etc. — he still ultimately says, “But it’s still fucking ugly.”

The “right to be pretty” is the right to *be* — and the right to be more inclusive.

You CAN be fat and beautiful
and fat and smart
and fat and fit
and fat and whateverthehellyouplease …

You CAN be fat and *BE*.

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20 Comments

  1. You are so right! Awesome post … and I’ve never seen that Finnegan guy before, but I think I’m in love with the “before” picture. :D

    Comment by Zilly — April 16, 2008 @ 2:55 am

  2. This is fantastic. Thankyou.

    Comment by Anna — April 16, 2008 @ 5:58 am

  3. You are so right – this is a great post.
    FA has gradually taught me to not automatically equate visible fat with non-desirability, and I find myself coming to the same conclusions as you (with everyone except myself, that is) :)

    Comment by Karrigan — April 16, 2008 @ 7:29 am

  4. Those women had WLS? WTF? The first woman is a size 20 at the most, and the second woman looks like a size 14, 16 max. WLS is such a risky and life-threatening procedure; it should be used only as a last resort measure. These women will now face a lifetime of diet restriction and will have to absorb their daily nutrients from a pill. The doctors who performed this procedure on them must have no scruples.

    Comment by Rachel — April 16, 2008 @ 8:06 am

  5. I think that Christian Finnegan looks better with the after picture- but only because of his hair. I mean, a little blonde wash did wonders for his eyes. His face looks better in the before picture, but his hair and attitude in the after picture.

    That’s the thing too, sometimes in the before pictures, the person will be happy and confident and that’ll look better. And, honestly, with many people who are “ugly”, all it takes is confidence, and belief that they are beautiful or that they are handsome. That’s it. A nice haircut, nice makeup, and flattering clothes also go a long way (hence my comment about Christian’s hair) but that’s only secondary to how we feel about ourselves. If you believe you’re beautiful, then you are beautiful. No matter what you weigh.

    As for Mr. Leia, I had to cover his face to see him look good. The beard is just… too off-putting for me to think of him as Leia.

    Comment by Angie — April 16, 2008 @ 8:19 am

  6. I’ve definately started finding fat people more attractive since I started FA too. Now that the kneejerk “Eww, fat!” reaction is gone and I’m actually looking at the people, I realise how attractive they are.

    And Angie brought up something that drives me nuts about those “before” and “after” pictures. The woman in the “before” picture (it’s usually a woman) is almost always wearing clothes that don’t fit and looking generally sloppy, not to mention miserable. Then in the after picture, they give her new, flattering clothes, a flattering hairstyle, and professional makeup. And she looks happy and confident. You can’t compare the two pictures! If she’d been wearing the same clothes, makeup, hair, and expression of confidence in the before picture, she’d look just as lovely if not more so.

    Comment by Becky — April 16, 2008 @ 9:09 am

  7. “But sometimes I really do believe regular folks think a certain celeb is hot merely because they were told to.”

    Yes, I agree 100% and thank you for articulating this.

    Thanks, in fact, for taking all the time to put together this great post and analysis. I love the before and after photos so much. I too am coming to the point where most people’s one-dimensional attitude about fat is not only bewildering, but also tiresome and irritating (and I don’t mean just on a personal level). I am just impatient with mainstream society’s ability to live such an unquestioning, unexamined, dull life when it comes to most people’s inability to “tolerate” fat. I’m like, “I’ve moved on, here. There are a lot more important things we could all be accomplishing.”

    Comment by spacedcowgirl — April 16, 2008 @ 10:07 am

  8. I really enjoyed reading this.

    Also, I would like to point out that we should also have the right to NOT be pretty– anyone should. I get so sick and tired of seeing pictures of celebrities in tabloids with headlines like SO AND SO LOOKS LIKE A BEAST WITHOUT HER MAKEUP ON.

    Forget that. Seriously.

    I think women, especially, and to a growing degree, men, have the right to just BE. And we don’t need some asshats running around snapping pictures, making it look like a federal crime to leave the house not looking our best.

    Comment by yellowhammer — April 16, 2008 @ 10:23 am

  9. Precisely, Becky.

    I have to give some love to my mother, here. When I was a kid, she used TV and magazine ads now and again as impromptu logic lessons. We’d parse out what they actually said as opposed to what they were trying to sell us, and that meant that I started looking critically at them…and that meant that I’d already noticed a couple impossibilities/implausibilities in magazine weight-loss aid ads by the time I was eight. I realized that the women in the before pictures slumped, wore clothes that didn’t fit, and usually wore woebegone expressions and had really limp hair. I also realized that the women in the after pictures mostly looked like they were desperately sucking in their guts as they smiled confidently at us and that a weight loss program should NOT lead to a larger bust measurement. Ergo, either they were lying in toto, or they were measuring while the lady inflated her bust measurement by means of sucking her belly in unnaturally.

    That meant I never got sucked into the diet mentality, thank goodness. I do, however, still sometimes find myself overcoming mass media brainwashing. There’s just so damn much and it’s so pervasive and so unacknowledged that it’s hard to fight.

    Luckily for me, I have every intention of continuing to use my brain, my sense of style, and my not insignificant vocabulary to help break down the stereotypes. I was beautiful at my lightest weight. I was beautiful at my heaviest weight. I am beautiful right this minute. I intend to be beautiful inside and out as long as I’m on this planet. I will continue to radiate confidence, intelligence, and good humor. If anybody has a problem with that, well, then that’s their problem. If my confidence can inspire even one other ‘before’ to be an ‘after’ without bothering to lose the weight in between, then my efforts will not have been wasted.

    Comment by Twistie — April 16, 2008 @ 10:30 am

  10. A-freakin-men at what yellowhammer said too. I’m tired of people treating me like crap just because I throw on something baggy and schlep around without makeup. Sure I have a face that only my cats and husband can love, but it’s not a crime. People who aren’t interacting with me directly are free to not look at me and pretend I don’t exist, they don’t have to talk behind my back or tell me to my face that I’m ruining their day by being nondecorative.

    That first before/after looks Photoshopped. I’m sure she looks different, but there’s something “off” about how the picture looks. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of the before pictures, though I’m bigger than the woman in the first one and can attest that a “rack of doom” like that can make you pretty desperate for relief.

    I kind of flip out over game/online avatars that come with a “fat” morph or option because most of the time the “normal” option is so asexual. If you look at the Yahoo av, the female avs look not that much different than a pre-pubescent boy, where the fat female avs actually have hips and breasts, indicating female sexual maturity and/or hinting at sexuality. There are women who are built very slender who don’t have pronounced hips and breasts, but they don’t comprise enough of the population to really be thought of as a default setting for the virtual human form. Even adult women who are very thin have at least the skeletal structure that widens their hips more than a pre-pubescent boy. Given that a lot of avatar customization options for female avs lean towards making the av look sexy (ie sexually available) while the body types lean towards making the avs look sexually immature, I find the trend disturbing at the very least.

    Comment by Godless Heathen — April 16, 2008 @ 11:36 am

  11. Wow. This is SO deep and so insightful. I too am learning to de-construct my notions of beauty. I want to re-define what I think is beautiful based on my OWN opinions and not what the media tells me to think! It’s so hard though because where do you even begin? I think we can begin with constantly questioning the status quo which you have done so brilliantly here. I think we would be great bloggroll buddies. tiffabee.wordpress.com Let me know what you think.

    Comment by tiffabee — April 16, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

  12. Zilly and Anna,
    Thanks! I really appreciate all of you who read and commented on this post, especially since it’s so long! I had no idea how long until I had to scroll past it …

    Karrigan,
    What is this blindspot when it comes to viewing ourselves? I do have moments where I feel like I could be a featured photo at the adipositivity project, but it’s nothing like the joyful new way I look at other fat people. Strange.

    Rachel,
    The first woman had WLS. I specifically mentioned it because, like you, I was shocked. She in no way qualifies for the surgery. I don’t even view WLS surgery as a last resort. There’s no treatment better than surgically enforced starvation? Really? Are docs just not trying very hard?

    The second woman lost weight on a diet (hope I used “WLD” correctly — meaning weight loss diet). The site of the system she used says she lost 70-79 pounds! To me, in the first photo, it looks like she needs to lose zero.

    Angie,
    You hit the nail on the head about confidence and belief.

    LOL @ “Mr. Leia.” Yeah, I think the judges had him shave, too. It just boggled me mind that a body type similar to mine could look good in such a famously revealing costume. Hell, even Carrie Fisher crash-dieted to fit in it!

    Becky,
    Totally — about the sloppy clothes. I mean, even the second woman in my before/after examples here is in a sports bra and underwear! Not the most flattering look. But it’s also similar to the look at the weigh-in on “Biggest Loser” — not that I watch that show, just having caught the weigh-ins here and there. I’m pretty quick to turn it off. But I did notice that the women are dressed in a sports bra and shorts. On national TV. The intentional humiliation quotient on such shows is disgusting.

    spacedcowgirl,
    Great point! The current aesthetic view does seem such a narrow, boring way of looking at things and people. Agree 100 percent.

    yellowhammer,
    Of course, you’re right. The right not to be pretty — that can be an important one for women when it comes to being taken seriously in other areas. It’s like that great comment KarenElhyam made about Dan Savage:
    “I hate this so much. He is saying one thing, and one thing only.

    ‘You fat people are choosing not to be attractive to me, also, you’ll die sooner, but that choice doesn’t impact me as much as the fact that I can’t look at you and get the hard on you owe me.'”

    Twistie,
    “If my confidence can inspire even one other ‘before’ to be an ‘after’ without bothering to lose the weight in between, then my efforts will not have been wasted.”

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

    Godless Heathen,
    You make excellent points about game and online avatars. It also brings to my mind comic books — generally fanboy-geared and male-created media. Diverse body types, (and personality types) especially when it comes to the female, are woefully underrepresented. Maybe I’m not versed enough in games and comics, but what I see jibes with what you say.

    Comment by worthyourweight — April 16, 2008 @ 5:31 pm

  13. Hey, tiffabee, thanks! I’m going to check out your blog ^_^

    Comment by worthyourweight — April 16, 2008 @ 5:33 pm

  14. FANTASTIC post! You go girl!!

    Comment by lauraann — April 16, 2008 @ 7:27 pm

  15. I agree with the fact that the “right to be pretty”, as you put it, is the right to exist.
    However, I couldn’t help but notice that as a society, the people who don’t think skin-and-bones bodies are attractive ALSO dismiss them based on their looks.
    But yes, I agree with a lot of things you’ve said here.
    You should TOTALLY do a cosplay of Princess Leia, by the way. ;D

    Comment by Satta Massagana — April 16, 2008 @ 9:33 pm

  16. Thanks, lauraann!

    Satta Massagana,
    If I ever cosplay as Leia, that really would be the pinnacle of accepting my own fat. I’d definitely have to blog about it here!

    Comment by worthyourweight — April 17, 2008 @ 5:07 pm

  17. That was a WONDERFUL read!! I can relate soo much!! I also agree with the Chris Finnegan thing, he looks weird now that he’s so much thinner, but I guess it’s part of the job if he’s gonna be in the “meeddiiiaaa”.

    I’ve lost over 130 pounds in 2 years due to lack of funds for sufficient nutrition, I can very well tell you when I spent a great deal of my life obese, I still got hit on..and I don’t even have that much confidence..I have bones sticking out, now. Too much for my taste, a little is ok for me since it’s something new to me and I can and have used it to my advantage..but it’s getting to be too much now. I never thought I’d see the day I’d TRY to gain weight.

    I sure do miss my boobies..sssiigghhh..

    Comment by Milfilicious78 — April 20, 2008 @ 11:22 pm

  18. I have no idea why that third girl you posted a pic of, ever had weight loss surgery. She is beautiful and she doesnt even look fat at all. It makes me sad that girls like her need think they need to do something so extreme.

    Comment by mrs darling — May 2, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

  19. Thanks for your amazing post. I couldn’t agree more.
    I have been involved in a feminist d.i.y. fashion project and one of our concerns was dealing with sizism.
    In the course of the project I wrote a song about that subject, and I think somehow the lyrics underline what you said:

    Song for all the girls who have been told they’re too fat (by people they love)

    My body is my protest
    my own form of subversion
    I mould it against fashion
    It’s not shaped by opinion

    My body is my statement
    in its stentorian beauty
    who are you to judge me
    I say fuck this society

    My body is grace
    covered in soft skin
    look at me
    and overthrow your grim concepts of beauty

    I am not formed by discipline lack or denial
    I riot dont diet
    thats what more of us should do

    Your objective is silly
    I dont want to get skinny
    I want to be taking up more space
    instead of slimming

    My body is my protest
    my own form of subversion
    I mould it against fashion
    It’s not shaped by opinion

    My body is my statement
    in its stentorian beauty
    It shouts who are you to judge me
    It screams fuck this society
    ***

    Comment by lauramusik — August 25, 2009 @ 7:33 am

  20. lauramusik,

    I love it! Thank you so much for posting your song.

    Comment by worthyourweight — August 25, 2009 @ 1:47 pm


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