Burgerhounds at the diner. Fran’s Hamburgers, South Congress
Ariel M Stallings, writing at Alternet, is today’s winner in the Twisty Weep-O-Matic email machine. Stallings asks the age-old question “Is dieting anti-feminist?”. Such questions cause a tear of blue funk to spring to the eye, for of course dieting isn’t anti-feminist, patriarchy is. To which distinction I’ll return momentarily. For now, the question answers itself: Ms. Stallings is a self-avowed feminist who, apparently, diets, so there you are, a pro-feminist dieter.
Of course, feminist self-avowals are no more immune to the little unexamined daily applications of prevarication than avowals of any other sort. Nevertheless, we’ll give Ms Stallings the benefit of the doubt. I am not personally acquainted with the intricacies of her politics, so for the sake of argument let’s at least give her an awareness of the brutality endemic to a system of male domination, and throw in for good measure a spirited contempt for compulsory pregnancy.
So Ariel Stallings, then, is a feminist who diets. In the Alternet piece she launches forthwith into a gripping autobiographical essay acquainting the reader with the unacceptable dimensions of her ass, how it got that way, how Weight Watchers, by shrinking her, ultimately catalyzed her how-can-it-be-so-wrong-to-look-so-hot “epiphany”, and how the newly miniaturized Ariel — although, she painstakingly reiterates, health was the primary motivation behind her purposeful physical diminution — is now reaping “vanity pay-offs” that make her “forget all about feminism, if only for a minute.”
You may imagine the difficulty one has, what with blue funk engulfing one’s tear ducts, in reading Stallings’ ardent, doxological views on the odiously misogynist Weight Watchers, which approbations she intersperses with such plug-and-play new-age nonsense as “losing this bit of weight has actually made me get back in touch with my body and its needs and given me a better sense of understanding myself.”
Yet I press on, past even the women’s mag-ish, pathos-evoking lament about having had to “sacrifice” a beloved pair of pants to her new figure (a pity that God hadn’t the decency to intervene on the unfortunate pants’ behalf, the way he did for Abraham and Isaac; a woman shouldn’t have to sacrifice innocent legwear to prove her love for either herself or, as the case may be, her patriarchy).
One cannot shake the sense that Stallings, in this earnest memoir of self-discovery through physical diminishment, has exerted every effort to convince the reader that in her quest for a reduced physique she was as careful as a redheaded stepchild tiptoeing past an alcoholic stepdad not to stir up the rumblings of the radfem bitchlords. For example, she distances herself from the patriarchy-infested Weight Watchers imams by “refusing” the dreaded weekly weigh-ins, not wanting to “fixate on a number.” But on the other hand she blames feminist dogma in the first place for having produced in her such a terror of ‘thinking about food” that she had become quite incapable of making rational decisions about how much daily bread to shovel in.
Say we concede that Stallings’ health might really have been suffering, despite a vegan diet and daily yoga practice, owing to her extra “bit of weight.” Say that she has persuaded us of her central argument: that the struggle to maintain a certain weight for health reasons is pro-feminist. What, then, do we then make of her parting statement about the delights of “vanity pay-offs”? Off-the-cuff jest or no, this, I posit, is where Stallings’ argument crumbles, (i.e. “becomes crumbelievable”), turning into something else altogether, something like “it is consistent with the tenets of feminism to reap patriarchally-bestowed rewards of hotness as long as you can argue that your health is what really matters.”
For it is clear that conforming to the patriarchal beauty ideal is of no small — whups, there I go being ‘litotic’ again — importance to Ariel Stallings’ deepest happiness. So important is it that she hyperbolates, like a beauty editor for Glamour, that the pleasure of this conformity overrides noble ideals she presumably holds so dear that she lets them define her. And although she says it jokingly, and obviously knows on some subconscious level that “vanity pay-offs” and feminism are incompatible, it is clear from her yearning tone that she wishes this weren’t true.
Stallings has fallen into the trap that has ensnared so many femininity-loving self-avowed feminists before her: she cannot tell the difference between what is true and what she wishes were true. She wishes it were true that conforming to the patriarchal beauty ideal is a politically neutral act; therefore she has concocted an elaborate scenario she believes will produce the desired result, and confuses it with truth. To wit: it is desirable for a feminist to want to be healthy; simply equate feminine beauty with health and there you are!
But it is not true that feminine beauty and health are the same thing. Let us not forget that one cannot be a hottie in a vacuum. A desirable thing may lie at the end of the path of least resistance, but that thing isn’t necessarily truth.
Possibly Ariel Stallings knows all this and doesn’t care, which would make her not a “bad feminist” but merely one of countless women for whom the constant struggle against dudely dominion is too exhausting. Women are under attack. Femininity is a survival skill. Use it and delight, lose it and fight. There are arguments to support either position. But let’s not kid ourselves that one is the other.
The spinster auntly heart bleeds for all the pious feministas in crisis, scrawling anguished odes to their hypocrisies. I wish they would just chillax already. Pause, girls. Reflect. Either you capitulate so patriarchal forces’ll cut you a break, or you don’t. If you have indeed paused and reflected, you know the truth.
Now, back to Ms Stallings, and this bizarre cultural imperative that a woman “love” her body: ay yi yi!