Tish rocks les rondes– and the reaction

Tish Jett, writer of the blog A Femme d'une certain age, published two posts on les rondes, with photos of large-sized models, which unleashed a spring storm's worth of comments. If you haven't read them, see Tish's posts here.

Reaction to the photos ranged from dislike through the middle ground of grudging admiration to the enthusiastic "yeah, baby!" Comments on Tish's posts are a window into the female flesh-psyche, the weight women carry in all senses of the phrase.

Shari Graydon, covering Toronto Fashion Week, wrote in an editorial, "
Disordered eating' is still a beauty of a problem" (The Globe and Mail, March 31, 2010):

"... girls and women who are taught by beauty advertising and fashion media to view their naturally sized bodies with puke-inducing disgust often withdraw from health-enhancing activities, abandon academic studies and limit their career opportunities. They also diet like crazy. And teenaged girls who diet are at a significantly greater risk for obesity than those who don't."
I don't know about teenaged girls, but have noticed
the obsession with weight gain among 50+ women, who will pinch the tiniest roll at the waist–the one any woman has when seated– and say "Oh, I'm so fat".

If one is naturally thin, she is told she is "lucky". If prone to gaining easily, she says she has "bad genes".

Food is the enemy
, carbs worse than crack. I hug a woman. She falters against me, tottering like a 90 year old. One acquaintance has vanquished her appetite, does that cutting-food-but-not-eating charade. I will no longer cook for her. "You
know what a problem food is", a blonde at a dinner party remarks. "No", I reply, shocked that she's saying this while at the table.

Furious that they are no longer size 6, 10, 14, women are caught in self-loathing.
I'm heartsick about it.

Six yesses, two nos

No to obesity, which is a health risk, especially for diabetes. Yes to viewing thin as only one of several attractive body types. Yes to realizing that even if you maintain your age-25 weight, your body is going to shift over the decades.

to eati
ng, yes to occasional treats and yes to enjoying a fabulous soup, even if you strongly suspect there is butter in it.

Yes to a full life, rich with experience, no to requiring it to be lived– by women of any age– as a particular size.


M said…
BRAVO! I agree with your 6/2. Women who constantly want to talk about their weight bore me to tears. I know that sounds harsh, but it's true. Life is gift and should be lived with vitality.
Susan B said…
Bravo, Duchesse!

I'm one of those girls who started strenuously dieting at age 13 and 103 pounds and thinking I should be much thinner like the models in magazines (and became borderline anorexic for a few years, and a lot eating-disordered for a couple of decades after that). I'm certain that I a)took a few inches off my potential height, as I stopped growing once I started living on 600-800 calories a day and b) set myself up to struggle with weight for the rest of my life. So yes, I'm a bit passionate about learning to see beauty in many different body types.

A close friend of the family has been anorexic for decades and is still so at 73, and still suffers all kinds of health problems as a result. She seems to enjoy so little, not just of food but of life, and is not an example I want to follow.
NancyDaQ said…
One of the things that really annoys me is when weight is presented as a dichotomy: either extreme of thinness or obesity. There is a middle ground; it's where most of us should live, and it's ok! I strive to live at a healthy weight. It's not as thin as some would suggest, but certainly in a healthy range that's comfortable for me and allows room for some of life's pleasures.
Someone said…
I think it is high time that girls were taught to see through the many ways that "society" (however one wants to name it) exerts control over female people to limit our sphere of action.

Everywhere you look, there is some command not to be one thing, and to spend huge amounts of energy being something else. Certain "authorities" teach men, and teach us, that we are evil temptresses and less-than. We are paid less than men so we can make up the shortfall in household custodial work while they pursue their personhood. Women's highest station is still to be a pleasing piece of meat. Oh but not TOO pleasing or else... Aren't we worth more than that already?

We have been wasted for millenia - it is time to stop the ridiculousness, the chasing after "femininity" and the whole load of BS. Let's teach our girls to stop being suckers.
ilona said…
We do struggle with so many, many different things...
The few minutes I can spend each morning with sensible, articulate woman who express themselves with confidence and flair give me a boost for the events of my day. Thanks, Duchesse.
mette said…
There is more obesity now than ever, that´s a fact. Loosing some weight should be well planned, allowing some `splurge´moments. What I can´t understand is: Why do nearly all people wear the smallest outfits possible? I´m not recommending a tent costume, but surely there h a s to be larger sizes, which could and would feel better.
La Loca said…
Preach it! My daughter is 7 1/2 and very healthy, but will never have a willowy body type. A classmate of hers has already started with "I'm thinner than you."
Anorexia is a serious problem with some of the young girls at our school...it is heartbreaking to watch. Many girls are eating like birds and look so ill, and the comments they make about food are so toxic. It is truly scary.
Leslie Fairfield has written a graphic novel which was just put on our shelves in the library and I am hoping it will be read and influence and maybe save a few young girls.
Lorrie said…
Kudos to you for this post. As someone who has been thin most of her life and is now gaining weight around the middle, I struggle with my new body, wanting that younger figure back and knowing that I can't have it. In a way it's facing my own aging (53) and realizing that life is passing.
This is a process and I don't want to become a woman obsessed with dieting. I love food and I love cooking. But telling myself this is normal and accepting myself this way are two very different things.

thanks for sharing
These discussions always get very fraught.

I think it is important that nice clothing exists in all sizes, even those we or the medical establishment might consider "unhealthy". How on earth can a person attain a healthier weight if she can't work, or find clothing she can move in and do moderate daily exercise - not just "working out" but also walking and cycling - without attracting shame?

I have a friend in Paris who is very heavy - fortunately she is rather tall, but I'm sure she is a bigger size than the young woman who is a size 52 over at A femme's blog. She doesn't seem to eat any more than anyone else in her gang. Genetics are very odd that way.

She seems to have a thick skin about it - God, in Paris where everyone is supposed to be either svelte or "un peu ronde" (in the right places).

But this friend is a teacher and needs to be able to find clothing to work in.

I agree with metscan that obesity is on the rise in all Western societies - and even in some non-Western societies. Our sedentary lifestyle and suburban sprawl are one of the big culprits, as are HFCS hidden in packaged foods - I found some in soya sauce the other day - and expanding portion sizes in restaurants, for people who eat out.

Yes, it is important to counteract these trends, but not by blaming their victims.

I have lost weight in recent years, but mosty through upping exercise. I've always been a fairly healthy eater - was brought up that way. Very little packaged food.
Anonymous said…
I struggle everyday with the self-loathing of no longer being naturally thin and trying to accept my post-menopausal middle-aged body.

I would love to see more variety in the body size and age of magazine and runway models.
s. said…
It saddens me to think about how much we women could accomplish if we took even half the money and time spent on "weight loss products" and talking about how fat we were, and poured it into volunteering, reading, exercising, taking part in the political process or even just sleeping.

I am currently heavier than I ought to be but try to put my weight-loss energies into getting to the gym and learning to cook healthy, delicious meals. And even if I don't end up losing a single pound, I know that these activities will still bring joy and health benefits into my life.

A big hear, hear to Lagatta, who points out that there must be clothes to fit women of all sizes. I am not obese, "merely" overweight, and even I find a limited range of fitness clothes in my size. Because everyone knows that larger women have no desire to exercise (insert eye roll here).

Happy Easter to all, even to those of you who don't celebrate it!
Tish Jett said…
My Chere Duchesse,

What an intelligent synthesis of our issue with the weight issue.

Good for you for not cooking for a woman who cuts and rearranges. (I have done this only on occasions when I felt it would be more polite to hide my wild boar or other offal under a vegetable than to be sick at table.)

I've spoken briefly with Cherie and she seems to want to include your analysis in her column tomorrow. So we'll be connecting back over the ocean with your permission.

Merci pour tout.
Belle de Ville said…
Excellent post. While I've hit that age where it is harder to maintain my weight, I'm only concerned about it because I miss wearing some of my prettier clothes. Other than that, I'm totally OK with some extra weight. Right now I'm more interested in the expansion of my mind than the expansioin of my derriere.
As as for nude photo of the ronde sitting in the chair that Tish posted, I actually thought that the plus size model looked like a lovely Renoir nude.
I think that model looked gorgeous and those photos were lovely.
Duchesse said…
Lynn: Agree it is boring; with some women every meal is an intense examination of what to eat.

Pseu: You were starving back then. Am touched that going through all that, you now share the passion for beauty in all body types.

Nancy: That's true, yet the print media are skewed. You would think, reading the magazines and watching prime time TV that most women are very slim.

Someone: I'll raise you one: this sense of lack drives consumption. There's a lot of money in getting us to think we need more. Self-accepting, happy people are not very good consumers.

downthegardenpath: Odd what a glow of pleasure I get when you call me sensible, thank you!

metscan: Find me a woman who does not curse the day when she has to move up a size!

Jane W: My sons' kindergarten teacher told me there were girls on "diets"! (Not obese kids, just following Mum and older sisters.) And my boys had (thin) male buddies in high school who obsessed about getting fat.

hostess: I so hope the book reaches young women.

Lorrie: Thanks for your open comments; have experienced same thing. Now when I see a woman grit her teeth and say "Oh, I don't eat during the day", I no longer admire her control. We have to be careful, but we don't have to be terrified of food.

lagatta: I jumped on Mark Bittman's "An Eater's Manifesto" when it came out and found his advice simple and achievable. We are learning so much more about the biochemical issues related to obesity and I hope this learning will change the perception of obese people as lazy, undisciplined etc.

Anonymous: Not sure what you are doing, but for me, a fitness routine I enjoyed was a lifesaver. s's comment below is wise, and she says it better than I could.

s: You've distilled so much here. While I dislike women complaining about their weight, am even more annoyed when they deny themselves (and others) the social and nutritional benefits of eating good food (what Mark Bittman calls "real food"). If we cannot break bread together, how can we form communities, how do families bond and maintain?

s. and lagatta: wonder if there is not a *great business idea* brewing between the two of you? Superplus, chic, and washable capsule wardrobes. And beautiful slips, robes and camis too.

Tish: What keeps me blogging is this conversation and mutual exploration; I'm eager to continue!

re that guest: I'm understanding if someone cannot bear a particular food. She didn't eat anything but a few leaves of salad. Anorexic's games.
Duchesse said…
Belle: So- as you know, buying jewelry makes ever more sense! I thought the seated nude was beautiful, and was surprised at the "well maybe she looks okay now, but just wait" remarks. In my experience the ultra thin women are not aging very attractively.

Carmie: Like you, I admired that lush figure; many runway models look unattractive and scary to me. As nanflan said, why don't they shoot "just average" too?
Fritinancy said…
Great post! But the links are incorrect. Here's Tish Jett's blog: http://afemmeduncertainage.blogspot.com/

The "Ronde et Ronde" post is here:
Duchesse said…
fritinancy: Links are my downfall and I thank you for correcting them, Nancy, b/c would so like women to read Trish's posts. I've fixed them, everybody!
Hear hear! I'm so sick of magazine headlines blasting at me from the newstands whenever I queue up at the supermarket about how fat or thin celebrities are. Can we not just leave the whole weight topic alone for them, so the rest of us can have some peace as well.
Tiffany said…
And I'll add another bravo to the chorus. As a 'lucky skinny', I have had more than a few nasty comments directed my way - 'you obviously don't eat', etc - over the years. In fact I love food and I hate it being treated as an 'enemy' or a 'problem'. It is one of life's joys, as is having a healthy body, whatever size or shape that is.
Fiona said…
Fabulous post. Might I add 'Yes' to real food, 'No' to diet/low-fat/faux/junk 'food'. When I eat real food, I naturally stop, and I am satiated. When I eat junk or diet 'food', the body craves more and more, and I don't stop until there is none left. It also kills your appetite with the more subtley flavoured real food. Something is very wrong in the world of made-up food.
Duchesse said…
Fiona: YES! That's another Bittman principle, "Eat real food." Real food is of course more costly, but far better for us.
Mardel said…
Yes! great post and love your 6/2. I've seen this from several sides. I was skinny skinny in youth and resented the fact that many people thought I starved myself to be that way. I was considerably overweight but never up to technical "obese" levels and people commented and looked at me funny if I ate. And I lost weight by eating real food and eliminating a lot of stress patterns which were what caused the weight gain.

People should just enjoy life, try to live well, and indulge occasionally.

By the way. I accept that I will never be skinny again. I'd like to lose a few more pounds, but am actually happy where I am, somewhere in the 10 to 14 range depending on part of the body and style. Fretting about it is too boring.

I do wish women could learn to accept themselves and others.
CompassRose said…
I went through a bout of disordered eating in my thirties, and for a while was very fashionably slim. I got nothing but praise for it, except from my mother. (And a whole slew of health problems, some of which still plague me even though I'm now a bit over "optimum" weight for my height.)

My mother, like her mother, and like me naturally, is short and round. After having four children, she was never able to lose the weight she gained, and for most of her mature life, she has been just under 300 pounds. (And not disabled by it, at all. We, the women of our family, hold weight well; when I was just under 200 pounds, I was only just a size 14, and it takes about 20 pounds for me to gain or lose a size.)

Anyway, last year, she had a heart attack (more likely caused by her smoking in her thirties and forties than by her weight) and then developed a very rare, and as far as doctors will tell her, completely random, auto-immune response to a bout of flu, which destroyed her kidneys.

If she had not been "ronde", she would probably be dead. The kidney failure, in particular, has absolutely stripped flesh off her, and without that cushion, she would have had nothing left.

Obesity is constantly critiqued for its health effects (many of which are not inevitable, and also afflict thinner people) but almost every study agrees that there is a correlation between a bit of extra weight and longer life in old age. Skinny may be the current aesthetic, but with my body type, I can only accomplish even "normal" weight for my height by starving, and I don't think the osteoporosis, and lack of physical resources in illness, is really worth it.
L'age moyen said…
The issue for me is conforming to a style of dress that is current but frankly anti-female. It is pro-girl, pro-boy but not female at all. We need to go back a couple of decades where women dressed with enough fabric to smooth and cover essentially female bodies. One of the attractions of saris in fact. Why do we continue to feel this pressure to wear jeans and t-shirts. These clothes are not for women. Duchesse, this discussion links back to your post on Julie and Julia. I have since seen the movie and Julia's clothes (even the rare shots in pants) deliver a silhouette that is female, flattering and very difficult to find in the here and now. Most women struggle with 10 pounds. Mindful eating should replace dieting and other nonsense. The moment you choose one extreme you end up in the world of extremes, one or another.
Duchesse said…
age moyen: What you describe as anti-female, I call "lack of clothing for grown-up women." I search for those Julia dresses, with sweep and grace, not little dresses to wear over jeans (cute and very 'junior'). Those 10 lbs are usually in the woman's head, as we are programmed to strive toward the very slim frame.
sanjeet said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
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Dea said…
With all due respect, as much as I agree with the substance of your post, you completely lose me at "no to obesity."

I am obese. I dieted strenuously from age 6 (!) to 27, then gave it up altogether. At middle age my body looks very much like the apple that fell very near my family's genetic tree.

When you say "no to obesity," you're saying no to me...but I'm still here, my experience is still valid, and regardless of the fat horror stories routinely promulgated by those of lesser countenance, I'm unapologetic. I cast a vote here for my own non-dieting sanity, not for the comfort level that others may or may not have with my body.

You have no idea how difficult it is to have a nation declare war on the dimension of my body as though I'm not standing right here in the room. And as girl-powerish as the French Elle "ronde" feature may seem, to my eyes it still objectifies women every bit as much as their regular features do, and leaves me unimpressed.

So please, enough with the "no to obesity" finger-pointing. It only serves to divide us and obscure the real agents of disempowerment.
Duchesse said…
dea: I'm saying no to obesity *strictly* for its contribution to disease. The research is there, dea. Go to the American Obesity Association and look at Fact Sheets re the prevalence ratios for diabetes, COPD and high blood pressure when BMI is over 30, and over 40.

I am not "making war on the dimensions of your body"; I'm saying let's reverse the lifestyle diseases. Genetic predisposition does make it harder to maintain non-obese weight but that is not a free pass.

I have at least 6 friends (4 women, 2 men) who were obese, and lost 60, 100 and even more pounds. Each has improved energy and mobility, lower blood pressure (out of danger zone), normal blood sugar (three were diabetic), and one can now fit into an airplane seat, which was essential to his work.

For each, the weight loss was a battle, for some harder than for others.

And I have friends and family who are presently obese. I love them, I find them beautiful, and I don't support the continuation of morbid obesity because I don't want to lose them. They wear out fast, so they refuse activities. (I'm not talking about a marathon, I'm talking about sightseeing or a walk.)

I'm not saying no to *you*, I'm saying no to a *condition* that is a choice. You are not obesity unless you choose to make your weight the defining feature of your identity.
Dea said…
Perhaps there are some people for whom obesity is a choice, though most people I know would prefer to be shot from a cannon headfirst than occupy a body that's the target of mass cultural dissatisfaction.

For many of us it is simply descriptive of our physical presence, much as eye or hair color, height or shoe size. Great numbers of us do not suffer from diabetes or high cholesterol, heart disease or high blood pressure. Many of us live in a way that would commonly be considered "healthy" and still have a body that is large.

It's a common mistake to assume that occupying a large habitus is merely a lifestyle choice that one can change with sufficient determination and inner fortitude. It's also erroneous to assume that being obese is an automatic death sentence or guarantor of ill health. For a great many people, obesity may be no more a "condition" of "lifestyle" or a "defining feature of identity" than heterosexuality or ambidexterity.

Of course I know that you're not talking about *me*, as we do not know each other. But as a person who happens to fit the generic description of "obese" I could be any one of those friend or family members of whom you are so fond yet fearful. Do you really believe that size acceptance is only for those 50's-ish friends who can pinch an inch? Is rejecting obesity in public forum really the most appropriate way to communicate your fondness?
Duchesse said…
I am not fearful of them, dea, I am fearful FOR them as they labour, short of breath, walking even two blocks. As they complain about joint pain.

You seem quite resolute in ignoring medical facts of the risks (not certainty, risks) of obesity. Not all obese people have disease, but look at the stats and see how many people who have diabetes are obese.

Nor did I say that maintaining the recommended weight range is "a matter of "determination and inner fortitude."

Ambidextrous and homosexual people do not incur the medical expenses that obese people do when and if their weight results in health issues.

I accept the obese person. I do not accept acquisition of a high risk lifestyle. If you are obese due to uncontrollable genetic factors, you have a tough situation. But most obese people are not.

I also reject smoking, for the same reasons: the health risks and costs are significant.

Finally, bring me a MD who says, "Oh, you're borderline obese. Keep gaining!" I would be most interested to meet that physician.
Dea said…
Trust me, it's impossible for an obese person to be ignorant of "medical facts and risks." We are constantly reminded of this by doctors, the media, the diet industry, the surgical intervention industry, the insurance industry, the industries of gyms and spas and fashion and athletic equipment, the wives of presidents, the bigots, the bullies, and the well-meaning friends and family who are scared out of their wits by all of the above.

If I'm resolute it's in knowing from indisputable personal experience that 21 years of dieting did not only not work for me, it quite certainly aggravated the situation. I'm also certain of my own experience in which a lifetime of vigorous athleticism did not prevent me from being the size I am.

I'm also quite certain that most of obesity's loudest critics have far less experience in this area.

As near as I can tell, the lifestyle change that may prove most effective would be a return to a pre-industrial-revolution life of hardship and deprivation. By this I mean a lifetime of ceaseless hard physical labor, extended periods of famine, unpreventable infectious disease and intestinal parasites in combination with utter lack of adequate medical care. But then, at 50 I've already outlived most my pre-industrial forbears and with such a high degree of health to which they could only aspire. To the degree that I have a choice in the matter, it was made when my people got on the boat and left that life behind them.

Do not mistake me for an advocate of obesity. NO PERSON WOULD CHOOSE THIS. But there are a lot of worse things than discomfort and inconvenience: rejection, prejudice, bigotry and scapegoating being among them. For this reason I advocate acceptance.

If words have meaning, then a wholesale rejection of obesity is not equivalent to a profession of affection or concern for loved ones. My argument is not that we should all become obese, it is that both your audience and your friends would be better served by more careful consideration and thoughtful choice of words.
Duchesse said…
dae; Accept it for yourself. As for me, I am not "accepting it" for myself. I could be, and could have been obese. I am not, because I do not choose behaviour that contribute to a BMI of 30 or 40 or more. We do have some genetic predisposition in our family.

I do not regret what I have written, nor would I change a single word of my statement "No to obesity, which is a health risk, especially for diabetes.",
Norma said…
Forgive me if I'm overstepping here, but I think that Duchesse and Dea are speaking past one another. (If I am wrong in how I am seeing this, please do let me know.)

Duchesse is saying that she fears for people who are obese, as she has seen obese people become ill, and knows that when they lost weight it was advantageous for their health. She imagines, therefore, that most everyone who is obese could reasonably lose weight, and she also assumes that if they did lose weight it would improve their health.

Dea is saying that there are people who will be obese by BMI measures regardless of eating in a healthful way, with reasonable portions, and being physically active. That, for some obese people, being obese does NOT lead to health problems; it simply is one feature of how they look as determined by genetics, akin to hair color or skin tone. For them, perhaps there would be an extreme weight that would be unhealthy for them, but the line of healthy/unhealthy does not begin at the weight point where 'obese' begins.

While Duchesse is correct, that at the population level, obesity is correlated with health issues, this does NOT mean that you can take these findings and apply them with certainty to an individual. That is where Duchesse and Dea are talking at cross-purposes. Duchesse is looking at the overall population findings, and Dea is speaking from individual experience. For some people, being obese will bring health problems. However, for others - it just plain won't. And it is dangerous to assume that just because someone is fat they must be sickly, or that their quality of life would surely be improved if only they were thinner. (And with that second assumption goes the assumption that healthy weight loss would be possible and sustainable.)

Obese does not necessarily equal unhealthy. I am technically obese. at 5'7" I weigh around 175-180 and I wear a size 14/16. I also got super-cheap life insurance coverage because I am ridiculously healthy. I am a competitive runner and I finished a half-marathon this past October. I lift weights, I work out. But because of my weight/height ratio -which I would add does not take muscular density into account - I am considered obese. I'm not all that worried about it though. Maybe if I get to the point where I can't go out and run a quick three miles, or do a couple hours of yoga at a stretch, I might consider it more of a concern.

My husband is also considered obese, perhaps even morbidly so. He is also 5'7", and about 210. He is a former bodybuilder, and although he no longer lifts heavy he runs, swims competitively, and until very recently competed in Highland Games sports including caber toss - and medaled regularly. He is also ridiculously strong. Size-wize and build-wise, think Wolverine from the X-Men. Could he lose 20# if he wanted to be a Hilfiger model? Maybe. But is he unhealthy because of his weight? Not on your life.
Duchesse said…

First, I wonder if each of you is truly obese.

While you (and your husband) may be obese according to the BMI, that is not the only, and in fact, not a very accurate measure, especially if one has a good deal of dense muscle. Are you obese by other measures such as skinfold or waist to hip ratio?

You might be just a big, muscly woman.

If the answer is "Yes, I'm obese", please consider that your fitness does not erase co-morbidity, the risk of one or more obesity-related health conditions or diseases: Type 2 diabetes, heart disease/high blood pressure and osteoarthritis, to name a few.

How old are you?

If you are obese, you may not yet have the issues that typically present in mid or later life.

Physical activity does not mean the absence of disease. So you could go for that run (for now) and still be significantly more at risk. To rationalize obesity by describing one's fitness routine is like a smoker saying "But-I run marathons".

Please introduce me to a physician who says to his or her patient, "You're morbidly obese, great! And do keep gaining!" Or, "Oh, you just may be one of the women who never gets diabetes- go for it!" The evidence is in on obesity as a risk factor- and it is one we can control, unlike genetic determinants.

Finally, "at the population level" vs. "at the individual level" is a way to claim a free pass, but my tax dollars are paying for health care for *everyone* (in this country, with universal health care) so while you two may be exceptions, the costs of treating lifestyle-related disease mount relentlessly- and doesn't everyone believe he or she will be that exception?

Individuals make up the population, and the big bulge of the normal curve worries me- if not you.

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