Jessica Simpson Lives

Small note from SBG: Nick wrote this post ages ago, when the topic was all over the tabloids. Due to technical errors (read: my slow-on-the-uptakedness), I didn’t get this until late last week. It’s still topical and worth discussing!

I’ve been reading posts on Jessica Simpson’s alleged entry into the company of fat people. In the thread to the latter post, someone commented: “It shouldn’t matter what her weight is, but seriously, on what planet is Simpson even remotely approaching fat?! (Totally not the point, I know). To which I replied: “It’s a related point. The beauty standard for women demands a severely unhealthy thinness – one where Simpson can be called fat simply by looking like she’ll live out the week.”

I’ve tended to think of this beauty standard as ignoring the consequent health issues; most critiques I’ve seen do the same. But this time I found myself questioning it, wondering if the unhealthiness of it is a deliberate (or “deliberate”) feature. Because it reminds me of something – how in the 19th Century, consumptive women were romanticised and regarded as beautiful – and just to be clear, yes, “consumptive” does indeed mean “dying of tuberculosis.”

In the 19th Century, there was a wave of feminism which aimed to improve the lives of women, and there is today. In the 19th Century, a beauty standard arose that centred on women’s bodies being hurt, and there is today. So today I’m wondering if the starvation-standard for modern beauty really does ignore the harm it does to women’s health – or if on some levels, that harm is the very idea.


  1. Dom Camus says

    Interesting concept, but before analysis even gets that far I’m inclined to question the assumption that modern “beauty standards” do work as Fox imply.

    There is indeed an obsession with slimness where stereotypical female beauty is concerned, but I’m not sure that really extends to extreme thinness outside the world of fashion. In reality, I suspect Fox are trying to create a story out of nothing. And it’s worked, since even now we’re linking to them!

  2. says

    Mmm, I think it does extend beyond fashion. I mean, I had doctors telling me to “lose a few pounds” when I weight 114 and was all muscle. Because I didn’t look thin and willowy, they assumed I had excess fat, which in truth I did not at that time. I was also told that sometimes women with PCOS (my condition) needed to become “underweight” to fight the condition. No research had really been done to support any of this – this bit of pseudo-science came from doctors noticing that a lot of PCOS patients have suddenly recently become very overweight. They assumed the weight gain had preceded the onset of the disorder. Now that someone’s actually bothered to research, it looks like maybe (or at least, in many cases, since there are multiple distinct versions of PCOS) the condition causes the weight gain, without any change in the patient’s eating or exercise habits. Weight loss IS still helpful in cases where sudden extreme gain has occurred, but in cases like mine – where I’ve never looked like people think a slim woman looks even when I had very low body fat, and therefore was always deemed “overweight” – there’s no evidence as yet to suggest weight loss will help with the disorder.

    If doctors readily bought en masse for decades into unresearched conclusions about how Fat Chicks Are Just Bringin’ It On Themselves, then yeah, I’d say the ideas go well – and dangerously – beyond the fashion world.

  3. sbg says

    Mmm, I think it does extend beyond fashion. I mean, I had doctors telling me to “lose a few pounds” when I weight 114 and was all muscle.

    I never had doctors tell me this kind of thing, but I think that had more to do with the fact we were too po’ to actually see doctors on a regular basis.

    Now, my mother? I can remember the times she “hinted” that I should be more careful about what I was eating and how big I was getting with brutal clarity, some 20 years later.

    It’s rather a trickle-down effect in some regards. It starts with fashion and Hollywood and regular girls are inundated by all these images of very thin women. If the majority of what they see is this, is it any wonder body images issues are present. FCOL, my very, very thin 16-year-old niece was complaining to me about being too big and I just about cried.

    Also, on a tangent – I watched a horribly schlocky Lifetime movie once which starred Amber Benson. In it, she was portrayed as the fat one, the girl in high school who was never pretty because of her weight. Amber. Benson.. If that’s overweight…merciful heavens.

  4. says

    Damn my bad memory that I can’t remember the exact details of this theory… but I remember someone once telling me about ‘social’ illnesses in women and how they could be connected to contemporary perceptions or idealisations of women. Their examples were hysteria in the 19th C (I can’t recall what that connected to, but I presume that whole consumptive/damsel in distress thing?), an apparent rise in agoraphobia in American women in the 50s (getting out of the workforce after WWII, staying in the house was idealised), and anorexia in the late 20th C. I thought that was a fascinating way of looking at, although I wasn’t entirely convinced at the time.

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