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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Dove’s Campaign for Fat Beauty

The recent Dove “real curves” ad campaign is all over the place. Not in the way that, say, oxygen is all over the place – but I hear it’s nudging out iron as the fifth most common element in the earth’s crust. In case you’ve been living under a rock, or something (and refuse to click the above link), the ads feature “natural” sized women, which Dove claims are between sizes 4 and 12 and who are not models. Many people have been applauding the move, saying that it’s good to see a company marketing a product based on its effect on real people. One of the big reasons given is that fashion model size-0’s are “unrealistic,” a claim only dented a little by the unfortunate fact that the models themselves clearly exist.

At first, I was with the feministas. Bravo to Dove for daring to be different! Down with the hegemony of the beautiful! But then I got to thinking – and the more I go over it in my head, the angrier I am about the whole damn thing. At this point, given the choice between eradicating the Dove ads from history, and murdering Kevin Federline, I would almost certainly take the former. And that’s saying something.

The biggest problem is the implication. It’s okay to be bigger – don’t worry about it. This seems to be taken as fact: you should be happy with your body and yourself, no matter what. I feel like this is a blatant untruth spread by people with something to sell – predicated on the idea that nobody is really going to be happy with themselves, so tell them they should be and sew the discontent that drives the capitalist machine. You know what? No. The problem is conflating the idea that something is wrong with someone and they can accept it, and the idea that there is nothing wrong with them. These are two totally distinct concepts that bear no substantive relation to one another. I would liken it to a nicotine addiction. Most people would say that a physical substance addiction, by deteriorating one’s ability to rationally elect different activity sets, can be categorized as a “problem.” That doesn’t mean smoking ought to be considered manifestly evil, as some on the DC city council might have you believe – but I’d say a rational individual would prefer a lack of addiction to an addiction. The same idea applies to being overweight.

Now, if someone is willing to say to themselves, “Everyone has problems – this happens to be one that I’m willing to accept the consequences of.” Well, that’s one thing. But once that happens, the individual in question loses the right to shake their metaphorical fist at others who are “shallow” and value the physical attractiveness of their mate (or salesperson, etc…). The problem is when those individuals, or society at large, start – as they have – to try to argue that there is no issue, and that physical characteristics are not important.

It’s illustrative to look at the dichotomy society in the US seems to have between intellect and physical attractiveness. In each instance, there are two basic areas: the genetic, and the behavioral. With respect to intellect, it’s accepted generally that being ignorant is a terrible thing that merits scorn (the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and NASCAR notwithstanding), yet when it comes to a person’s relative mass, it’s considered a massive faux pas to even acknowledge it, let alone look down upon the individual for it. Calling out bigotry is probably the single least controversial thing one can do – yet we can only decry obesity as some sort of amorphous social problem, and not as a failing of individuals.

Yet if a person can run for thirty minutes a day and manage a healthy, but not excessive, diet – they can lose 1-2 pounds per week. (A pound of fat contains roughly 3500 calories, so a 500 calorie/day deficit will net you a pound lost per week – a completely realistic goal for anyone who is genuinely overweight. A 180 pound male burns 2300 calories a day just being alive – so with even a little exercise, we’re not talking carrot sticks and water.) Noting that more people die from fat-related deaths than from nearly any other cause (costing the country billions a year), there is pretty much no excuse as to why people can’t lose weight. And that’s honestly, I think, the source of the value differential noted above.

With intellect, we value genetic intelligence, but the things we find most important about the body are primarily behavioral. A person can grant that they will never be Richard Feynman, because they never could be. But they could be thin and more attractive – and somewhere, subconsciously, they’re aware of the fact.

The other important distinction between genetic characteristics is that, at a very basic level, IQ is not as important to people as how attractive they are considered. The interaction between people in scouting out mates is a more visceral and personal thing, while the austere, airy heights of thinking are more abstract and the benefits less concrete and close to home. Most people would, given the choice, have sex with someone hot rather than, say, read Foucault. And even an anecdotal study can tell you that having a good relationship with someone you find attractive will make you happier a lot faster than a high IQ, no matter what the philosophers say. (Personal note, I fully believe that Hume’s entire epistemology was based on his being an overeating fatass who couldn’t get laid. I truly think that, from Rand to Plato, all philosophy is based on individuals who want to justify their own basic intuitive impulses and shitty lives. As evidenced by the response my proposing this as a philosophy thesis drew, academia is not ready for such a groundbreaking study. )

When it comes down to it, Dove’s ad campaign is just part of the larger narrative of no personal responsibility and jealousy. And that’s just sad, people.

cranked out at 7:51 AM | |

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