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of six-pack abs and real girl bellies
February 1, 2012 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Of six-pack abs and real girl bellies: thoughts after viewing xoJane's "Real Girl Belly Project" ("Show Us Your Bellies!", photo gallery part one, photo gallery part two).
posted by flex (146 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Someone please tell tumblr about this. So fucking tired of fake before/after shots.
posted by Fizz at 10:39 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Girls (and guys) need bellies. Where else are they supposed to rest the bar for the axle clean in Strongwoman competitions?
posted by Loto at 10:49 AM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


That photo of Madonna from her "Like a Virgin" days seems a really, really odd place to go for proof that we once lived in a golden age where no one cared about whether or not women were skinny.
posted by yoink at 10:54 AM on February 1, 2012 [13 favorites]


My wife certainly needs a belly, because otherwise I'd have to get off the couch and get a pillow, like a sucker.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:54 AM on February 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


when xoJane started this up, i was surprised there was nary a mention of amanda palmer's ReBellyOn.
posted by nadawi at 10:55 AM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


oh, and here's the metafilter discussion about the rebellyon.
posted by nadawi at 10:57 AM on February 1, 2012




Just more internet navel-gazing
posted by mikoroshi at 10:59 AM on February 1, 2012 [34 favorites]


I particularly enjoy the "fitandfeminist" tag this post has :)
posted by hepta at 11:25 AM on February 1, 2012


Remember, women & girls: If you're naturally thin, you're not a real woman.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:27 AM on February 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's an awful lot like those posters circulating that contrast Marilyn Monroe to some rail thin super model.

The point isn't that one body type is intrinsically preferable, it's that we need to stop commodifying the human body.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:30 AM on February 1, 2012 [13 favorites]


Hey coolguy: rtfa. No one said thin girls weren't real (here). In fact, the tagline for the xojane project is "Fat or thin, white or brown, smooth or hairy, rippled or taut, we want to see those beautiful bellies!"

Yours is a legitimate complaint, but not surrounding this particular post.
posted by AmandaA at 11:31 AM on February 1, 2012 [31 favorites]


Remember, women & girls: If you're naturally thin, you're not a real woman.

Maybe read the link?
posted by jessamyn at 11:38 AM on February 1, 2012 [39 favorites]


This is fantastic. A bit of a belly, on a guy or on a gal, is just so damn sexy.
posted by xedrik at 11:39 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]



I find that giving up reading fashion, fitness and celebrity gossip magazines has really improved my self-image. Imagine, I'm not comparing my 50-year old self to 20-year old, airbrushed models and actresses.

Seriously, while it's interesting to see what the zenith of current beauty is, all I ever needed was a gym membership to see what the real world looks like.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:39 AM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I really liked Already Pretty post on "Flaws" that the Fit and Feminist blogger linked in her piece; I debated on including it in this post but decided not to, just to keep the focus narrow.

"...the assertion that bodies can even have flaws implies that some bodies are flawless. It creates an imaginary and impossible hierarchy of beauty that women strive to ascend. It makes us all feel inadequate on a fundamental level because flaws are damage, errors, mistakes. Flaws are wrong.

But your body is not wrong. Nothing about your body is a flaw. I don’t care how many scars or warts or zits it’s got. I don’t care how much or little you weigh, how tall or short you are, how much or little hair you’ve got or what color it is. I don’t care how you’re proportioned or where you stash your cellulite or how big your boobs are. And I sure as hell don’t care how old or young you are. Your body is NOT WRONG. Your body is NOT FLAWED. Your body is also not perfect, but guess what? Neither is anyone else’s, and that’s just biology. Anyone who wants to talk to you about how to hide or mask or eliminate your flaws wants to sell you some crap that they’ve invented. And whatever crap they’re selling may slowly, subtly strip away your humanity and uniqueness. Because the Beauty Machine believes that we all want to look like identical airbrushed photos of former humans, and it sells us that desire over and over again."

posted by flex at 11:42 AM on February 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


I'd like to clarify my earlier comment.
I'm contrasting the link to the other thing, not comparing them. Thanks. :D
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:44 AM on February 1, 2012


Oh man, this is so great! I've been stressing a bit about my lil' pooch for months. I've been a skinny bitch all of my life, but a more comfortable lifestyle and healthier eating habits have caused me to put on a few (very necessary) pounds. I'm still very slender, by most standards, but now I've got some tittaaays and a booty and people no longer say, "Are you *suuuuure* you don't want a cookie?" Yay!

On the other hand, my flat little tummy is gone, replaced by a squishy bit 'o belly pooch. It's not too noticeable most of the time, but some of my old attire is basically unwearable, unless I intentionally want to look like I'm 3 months pregnant.

Because it's winter here, I've been able to reign it in a little with sartorially-appropriate control-top pantyhose and tights, but warmer weather is just around the corner and my pooch is a wild, wanton beast that can only be tamed for so long. And swimsuits are unforgiving little sons-of-bitches.

So I haven't been seriously stressing about my belly, but it has been at the forefront of my thoughts for some time. All of the AskMe Forums I perused basically said the same thing: body part specific-weight-loss is a myth. If I want to get rid of my pooch, I've also got to lose weight everywhere else too. I've literally got to kiss my ass goodbye. And to that I said:

Hell no! I love my ass! It's great! It keeps me warm! I can close doors with it! It protects my tail bone from hard seats! If a flubby tummy is the only way I can keep it, then I'll embrace my tummy with open arms.

And you know, this tummy isn't so bad. Sometimes I rub it for luck, or if I'm feeling sad or anxious or lonely. It's a reminder that I'm healthy, that I have a stable lifestyle and lots of good food to eat.

Flat bellies are awesome too, I suppose, if they are the result of nature or healthy hard work and not pain/deprivation. But I think I'm going to try to love my belly the way it is.
posted by chara at 11:45 AM on February 1, 2012 [21 favorites]


All the people who are saying this is demonizing slender women and/or women who have pronounced abdominal musculature need to read the actual damn post.

The objection isn't to any actual woman's actual abdomen. The objection is to Photoshopped "perfection" shots that don't represent the reality even of the very slender and ripped women who model for web and magazine glamour photography.

Slender and ripped women are real women, for sure. But mags and celebrity websites don't publish real photos of their real bellies. Or of the bellies of women who are neither slender or ripped, except in tabloids' "Worst Beach Bodies" issues.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:54 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Loto, why the incredibly awkward shift of over/under grip on that lift ?
posted by k5.user at 11:57 AM on February 1, 2012


It's an awful lot like those posters circulating that contrast Marilyn Monroe to some rail thin super model.

Monroe occupies a weirdly distorted space in the discourse around body image. For one thing comparing Monroe to a model is silly--she would never have made it as a fashion model in her day or ours: she was a pin-up girl turned movie star and she should be compared to pin-up girls and movie-stars of the present. And as such, she had pretty much exactly the same kind of body that gets prized today: big boobs on an improbably thin body.

Yes, in her later career Monroe put on a little more weight, but the industry gave her hell about it--including openly taunting her in reviews of her movies. The notion that back in the 50s the "ideal" was for women who would nowadays be regarded as horribly overweight is almost entirely a myth. A lot of the misunderstanding has to do with reported dress sizes that Monroe supposedly wore ("OMG, Marilyn Monroe wore a size 12!!!" etc.). I'll bet that most of those are based on scant documentary evidence to begin with, but to the extent that they have any basis in fact, they ignore the radical deflation of women's standard sizings over the decades. If you ever get a chance to look at dresses Marilyn actually wore they're tiny.
posted by yoink at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2012 [26 favorites]


Yeah I agree entirely yoink, that particular image that's been circulating could be torn apart in so many ways, for so very very long.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:00 PM on February 1, 2012


I loved this article. I spent years being told that my belly needed to be "taken care of" and that if I'd just exercise to get rid of it I'd be attractive (all by a horrible asshole of a husband and reinforced by the media). 4 years later, I'm only just starting to accept that it's not a flaw, and to have a feminine shape is a good thing, and I look better for it. The more I see that I'm not alone in having a rounded belly the more I am happy with it.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 12:01 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.
posted by rokusan at 12:02 PM on February 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


What does "photoshopped" mean, exactly? Please define. Is it like pornography? With higher megapixel counts, today's better cameras can show so much detail re skin texture, detail you'd never notice in person. Images were always affected by white balance, etc., anyway, as should be evident by looking at the pics on this page. Some peoples' skin look crazy smooth, meanwhile. Did they use a portrait filters on their phone? Does that count as "photoshopping?"
posted by raysmj at 12:04 PM on February 1, 2012


I fell into a bit of despair when the waists of my pants started to dig into my midsection. How did this happen, how did I, the skinny girl who weighed the same at 30 as she did at 18, grow out of her clothes? Why wouldn't these size 0 jeans come up over my thighs anymore?

I realized after awhile that my old clothes had only fit me because I was underweight. When I reached a healthy weight, I thought I was starting to get fat. I don't even look at fashion magazines or celebrity photos, but I'd still gotten the pernicious message that any amount of belly = fat, regardless of the fact that I'm 105 lbs.
posted by desjardins at 12:05 PM on February 1, 2012


It's unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.

Really? I mean, sure, I don't want to go fondle a supernova or something. There are obviously cases where the two things diverge. But for bodies is that a general truth?

Also, to the thread in general: I guess turnabout is fair play and all that, but if I were a fit, flat-bellied woman reading this thread I'd be getting a pretty strong message that I did not look "feminine" and that I wasn't "healthy" and that I was obviously a victim of media brainwashing. I think "feminine" is a term that can happily encompass everyone from Flo-Jo thru Scar-Jo to (desperately tries to think of a plus-size -Jo, fails), Mama Cass. Happily accepting who you are doesn't have to be premised upon denigrating who you're not.
posted by yoink at 12:12 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: I don't want to go fondle a supernova.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:13 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does "photoshopped" mean, exactly? Please define.

What is this rhetorical stance called again? Argumentum ad Comic Book Guy?

The photoshopping of public images isn't something people made up; it's been studied extensively and widely documented.

Retouched images are the norm, not the exception, in the worlds of fashion and glamour photography. You may pretend that's not the case if it makes you happier, I suppose.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:15 PM on February 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


if I were a fit, flat-bellied woman reading this thread I'd be getting a pretty strong message that I did not look "feminine"

Garbage. Nobody here is saying that. That strawman is a derailing of the actual conversation about what is presented as the norm in public images, which is artificially enhanced even when the original image is of a very slender, ripped woman.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:16 PM on February 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


I loved the part about how washboard abs are impressive and definitely require a lot of discipline so there's that, but as physical feats go they're one of the most useless. Right on. The past couple years for me have become a sort of revelation journey moving away from "fitness to look skinnier" into "fitness to be amazed at what my body can do/accomplish" and at first it was kind of half-hearted, wanting-to-be-a-good-feminist stuff where I told myself it but my heart wasn't always entirely sold...but now that I have accomplished some things for myself that I'm proud of I have totally drunk the Kool-Aid in the "it's what you can do, not what you look like" school. I'm genuinely not impressed or envious anymore by skinniness; now I just think things like "oh my god Nicole Carroll overhead squatted her frickin' body weight fifteen frickin' times oh wow oh wow" or "look at that woman's insane feats of core strength and balance as she twists in on herself and seemingly walks on air" type stuff. It's changed my life to start genuinely caring about reaching hard goals and doing things that require time and will and strength and not giving a shit anymore about whether my butt looks big in these pants, to be all cliche.

I want to submit too because I have a HUGE, huge scar on my torso, one that I was hyper-ashamed of throughout my early and mid 20s (I'm 29), and only recently have I become totally comfortable with it. I was joking just last week about how not just everyone gets to see it, you gotta earn it, with a wink to someone. Yay to all bodies, for as...was it Nomy Lamm or Marilyn Wann or Wendy Shanker? put it, they are all possible, acceptable, and real.
posted by ifjuly at 12:17 PM on February 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


Ah, so soliciting photographs from a particular small demographic (xoJane readers) gives a more accurate sample of "real women" than advertising.

"But at the same time, six-pack abs are almost entirely aesthetic. ... They merely indicate that the person has a pair of six-pack abs."

Hardly.
Abdominal fat is a fairly reliable visual indicator for health, it's why we find thin waists attractive.
posted by zentrification at 12:17 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yoink, I believe rokusan was quoting the movie "Pulp Fiction".

Loto, that video made me want to cheer that girl on. Woo!
posted by jillithd at 12:18 PM on February 1, 2012


This makes me smile. I just got done with a lecture where I make a joke about my extra weight being the echo of the Neolithic Revolution's massive upswing in food production. I make fun of myself for the extra 40-80 lbs I carry.

At least in public.

In private I hate my body. I hate how gross and large I feel. How hard it is to roll over or get up. How my skin touches itself in places. All the folds and lobes and gobs of me. I diet constantly - I'm on a restrictive 1300 cal a day diet, balancing protein and carbs and fat. I haven't lost any weight and I've been doing it for a year.

But this made me smile and think, "you know, its not just me, and its not really ugly to be chubby."
posted by strixus at 12:19 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


What does "photoshopped" mean, exactly? Please define. Is it like pornography?

You can tell by the pixels.
posted by stopgap at 12:20 PM on February 1, 2012


it's why we find thin waists attractive

What do you mean "we", kemosabe? The crap evo-psych studies that suggest that are crap. Different cultures have, and different ages have had, different standards of beauty. A certain waist-hip proportionality has some weak evidence suggesting that it is preferred across time and across cultures, but that's not an argument in favor of six-pack abs being a sign of health.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:22 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


An academic study of whether Photoshop has been used or how extensively still doesn't look at the internals of the camera. Some of the shots I see in the bellies blog were obviously taken with cheap cameras with either built-in or app-derived smoothing filters. And they were taken with a variety of cameras, some that show more skin texture, regardless? The white balance and lighting, megapixel count, etc. obviously differs dramatically from shot to shot.
posted by raysmj at 12:22 PM on February 1, 2012


On the myth of "plump Marilyn", from the guy hired to catalog and display her clothing for auction:

Right away, I discovered that Marilyn was shockingly and unimaginably slender. She was sort of like Kate Moss but fleshier on top. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

When it came to finding mannequins to fit her dresses, I simply couldn’t. M.M.’s drag was too small for the average window dummy.

posted by The Bellman at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah, so soliciting photographs from a particular small demographic (xoJane readers) gives a more accurate sample of "real women" than advertising.

Absolutely, yes.
posted by jessamyn at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2012 [26 favorites]


An AMA consideration of what anyone with a brain could tell are dramatically altered photos does not tell me anything about slightly or subtly altered photos, nor does a study using software that can ID the use of Photoshop tell me anything about the internals of the camera, why Photoshop was use. It doesn't have to be and isn't always used in such a glaring fashion, or no one would ever buy or need the product.
posted by raysmj at 12:25 PM on February 1, 2012



Abdominal fat is a fairly reliable visual indicator for health, it's why we find thin waists attractive.
posted by zentrification at 12:17 PM on February 1 [1 favorite +] [!]


My understanding is that for a six pack to show, you have to be under about 10% body fat, depending on the person. According to the BMI and such things, men and women should be at least double that, with women considerably higher than men.

It's all highly variable, but in most cases a visible six pack means that men, and especially women, are well below their ideal weight.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:26 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Loto, why the incredibly awkward shift of over/under grip on that lift ?

It's an axele clean-and-jerk, that's how it is supposed to be done. The over/under grip helps with grip strength ( the hands can oppose each other), and you rest the bar on your belly to switch and get it up on your clavicle.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:31 PM on February 1, 2012


axle*
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:32 PM on February 1, 2012



My understanding is that for a six pack to show, you have to be under about 10% body fat, depending on the person. According to the BMI and such things, men and women should be at least double that, with women considerably higher than men.

It's all highly variable, but in most cases a visible six pack means that men, and especially women, are well below their ideal weight.


Not even close:
Typical fat amounts
posted by gyc at 12:32 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Garbage. Nobody here is saying that.

Um, I don't want to call anyone out, but yes, people are saying that. If you say "I put on weight and at first was distressed about it, but now I love how feminine my figure is" you're saying that the skinnier look you used to have isn't "feminine."

Just imagine the reverse statement "I used to have a little tummy, and then I exercised really, really hard and dieted every day and now I'm so thin and feminine, I love it!"
posted by yoink at 12:37 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


*paging jonmc*
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:41 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


"If you say "I put on weight and at first was distressed about it, but now I love how feminine my figure is" you're saying that the skinnier look you used to have isn't "feminine."

No, you're not. You're saying "I have come to appreciate my body as feminine and attractive." It doesn't mean it's the only way to be feminine and attractive. It's like saying "The dress made me feel really feminine." It doesn't mean anyone not wearing your dress isn't feminine.

I realize that these things often break down into "if I'm beautiful, you must be ugly," and I don't disagree that the "real versus thin" thing is gross and unhelpful. But saying you consider your body feminine is not a cut on anyone. If you can't say you feel positive about your body type without it being a cut on other people's bodies, then we're sort of dictating that it's zero-sum, and the whole point is NOT to have that.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:41 PM on February 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


But your body is not wrong. Nothing about your body is a flaw.

I appreciate the sentiment here, but I'm going to go ahead and say that, actually, yes, my scoliosis and my ventricular septal defect are, in fact, flaws. That are a part of who I am, for sure, but they are definitely flaws (and at least one of them affects my appearance).
posted by asnider at 12:44 PM on February 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


The other thing to understand about Marlyn Monroe was the fact that expectations of what a woman's body should look like in the '50s and early '60s were shaped (as it were) by the use of serious, industrial quality foundation undergarments.

Seriously, the advances in materials science during this period that didn't come from the space race likely came from women's lingerie.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:44 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Abdominal fat is a fairly reliable visual indicator for health, it's why we find thin waists attractive.

Come on, someone was jackin' it to Venus of Willendorf.
posted by muddgirl at 12:47 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not even close:
Typical fat amounts


Eh? The figures you quote suggest that a woman with under 10% body fat would be dangerously underweight. What were they meant to demonstrate, exactly?
posted by howfar at 12:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Abdominal fat is a fairly reliable visual indicator for health, it's why we find thin waists attractive

Presenting the speculations of evolutionary psychology as hard fact is a mug's game and makes women think you're dumb, that's why all popular writers in evolutionary psychology hate women.
posted by howfar at 12:54 PM on February 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


saying "The dress made me feel really feminine." It doesn't mean anyone not wearing your dress isn't feminine.

No, but it does suggest a specific concept of what constitutes "femininity." And you're kinda glossing over the fact that in a narrative of change to say that I didn't used to look feminine and that now I do is very markedly to privilege one way of looking as "feminine" and another way of looking as "unfeminine."

I think my problem is with the use of "feminine" (or "masculine," come to that) as a term of praise in this way when it's also tied to some specific way of presenting yourself. If you see a little girl wearing, say, a Princess dress and you tell her "don't you look pretty and feminine" you're decidedly telling her that she looks unfeminine when you see her running around in jeans and a t-shirt. Unless, of course, you always say the same thing no matter what she's wearing--which would be a bit odd. There might be some argument, of course, for telling a little girl "don't you look feminine" when you see her in jeans a t-shirt--but you'd just be deliberately tossing in a counterweight to what you know she's getting in the way of general cultural conditioning.

I guess that in general we should consider the terms "feminine" and "masculine" to be neutral--not terms of praise or blame.
posted by yoink at 12:54 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


fwiw Unilever's 2004 ad campaign for Dove soap was Ogilvy's attempt to embrace real girl bellies: The Campaign for Real Beauty. Greenpeace wasn't warm for their form.
posted by wensink at 12:58 PM on February 1, 2012


Um, I don't want to call anyone out, but yes, people are saying that. If you say "I put on weight and at first was distressed about it, but now I love how feminine my figure is" you're saying that the skinnier look you used to have isn't "feminine."

I guess I'll speak up, since I opened that particular can of worms. I want to state that I don't believe that there's anything inherently wrong with being skinny, if that's what's healthy for your body. In my case, it wasn't. I was underweight because I wasn't eating properly, due to stress and trauma.

I love my body now and I celebrate it because it is the physical embodiment and result of my healthier, happier lifestyle.

If I had been an overweight person with an unhealthy lifestyle and I'd worked hard to have a slim, trim body while adopting a healthy diet, I'd be hella proud of my flat tummy and I'd probably stroke it just as lovingly.

That's the awesome thing about bodies: they come in many different shapes and sizes and colors. You have to find what works for you and own it.

Now I understand what you're saying about my comment being disparaging to women who do happen to have flat tummies. I totally feel your frustration. There are still people who think I'm too thin and dismiss me as a skinny bitch, who accuse me and other women who look like me of being "anorexic Barbie dolls".

Now I could listen to them. I could force-feed myself and bulk up and fuss over calories and healthy fats and proteins in order to fit some idealized view of what a "real woman" is. I've been down that road before. I was miserable. Instead, I choose to just eat what I want, when I want and treat food as a pleasure instead of an obligation.

I'm healthy, physically and mentally, and that's what's important. Whatever your size is, however taut or flabby your tummy may be, love it.
posted by chara at 12:58 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Come on, someone was jackin' it to Venus of Willendorf.

We know nothing whatsoever about the cultural meaning of those figurines. We certainly can't tell if they were meant to realistically represent an ideal of sexual attractiveness. Although you're right that it's a reasonably safe bet that somebody found them sexy; we've got no reason to imagine a narrower range of sexual predilections in those days than now. But the way people naively invoke those figures as if they were the celebrity snapshots of pin-up photos of the day always bugs me.
posted by yoink at 1:01 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


...if that's what's healthy for your body.

I'm not criticizing you or anyone here, but personally I don't think that even judging against health is necessary. I know that we get a bit hung up on health and want to live forever, but we don't, and we can't, and sometimes being somewhat unhealthy is okay too. Whatever works for the individual.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:02 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's the awesome thing about bodies: they come in many different shapes and sizes and colors. You have to find what works for you and own it.

Amen to that.
posted by yoink at 1:03 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


@yoink: You mean like Herzog's sole, idiotic comment on women in Cave of Forgotten Dreams? Ugh.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:06 PM on February 1, 2012


@yoink: You mean like Herzog's sole, idiotic comment on women in Cave of Forgotten Dreams? Ugh.

Yes, good example. That film was an odd experience--utterly riveted by the images, driven almost to distraction by the absurdity of the commentary (the albino alligators being the last straw). If I ever watch it on DVD I think I'll just put some music on and watch it with the sound off.
posted by yoink at 1:11 PM on February 1, 2012


"I didn't used to look feminine and that now I do."

Can you refer me to that comment? I can't find it. I'm not saying there isn't one (it's a long thread already) but I see no comment that says or implies "I didn't used to look feminine and now I do because I gained weight."
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:14 PM on February 1, 2012


Abdominal fat is a fairly reliable visual indicator for health, it's why we find thin waists attractive

For anecdata, there's a photoshoot of Olympic-level athletes, who have to be incredibly disciplined in keeping themselves healthy and fit. Some have six-packs, many do not. Some have thin waists, some do not. I'd argue that there is really no way to tell 'health' from visual assessments of body weight/shape alone.
posted by zennish at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


"the man of twists and turns" has it. It's a grip strength thing. Those axles are thick and at heavy weights get awkward to move and the mind plays tricks on you to prevent you from lifting things which you have only a tenuous grip on.

Christina Lafex Axle Clean

Of course, then there are people like Christina Lafex who has some damned amazing grip strength. This is the same movement as I linked above but done for more reps, at a higher weight, with a double-overhand grip.
posted by Loto at 1:16 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]



posted by zennish at 1:15 PM on February 1 [+] [!]


Olympic athletes are a terrible bar for health anyway. They're very specialized, and the damage they do to themselves to get that kind of performance can be quite terrible.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:23 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Loto, that video clip makes me super-scared for her toes! Is it normal to throw the bar down like that? It seems like it could stress the arms to me, but I don't know much about lifting weights.
posted by flex at 1:24 PM on February 1, 2012


We know nothing whatsoever about the cultural meaning of those figurines. We certainly can't tell if they were meant to realistically represent an ideal of sexual attractiveness. Although you're right that it's a reasonably safe bet that somebody found them sexy; we've got no reason to imagine a narrower range of sexual predilections in those days than now. But the way people naively invoke those figures as if they were the celebrity snapshots of pin-up photos of the day always bugs me.

Saying that Willendorf was the "ideal of sexual attractiveness" then is as facile as saying Kate Moss is the ideal of sexual attractiveness today. Which is why I didn't say anything of that sort.
posted by muddgirl at 1:24 PM on February 1, 2012


Saying that Willendorf was the "ideal of sexual attractiveness" then is as facile as saying Kate Moss is the ideal of sexual attractiveness today. Which is why I didn't say anything of that sort.

I didn't say you did, muddgirl. I said "the way people do" (as, for example, Herzog in Cave of Forgotten Dreams). Sorry I didn't make it clearer that I was just building off your comment and not responding directly to it (except where I explicitly agreed with it).

As for Kate Moss, I think it would be reasonable to say that she represents a pretty widespread "ideal of sexual attractiveness" today, though by no means a universal one. With the Venus of Willendorf, we just don't know--at all--if anyone involved in making her or observing her considered her to be intended to be seen as a representation of a real human body and, if so, if that general form was widely considered to be a sexual "ideal."
posted by yoink at 1:31 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Before I had my first child, at 30, I trained 3-4 hours a day, from the age of 13. I always had a small belly, below the navel, and no amount of push-ups would change that. No fat anywhere else.
After no. 1 was born, training dropped to 1-2 hours a day, but I actually lost weight, and my belly diminished somewhat. After no. 2 was born, I lost more weight, and for a while the belly disappeared entirely for the first time in my life.
Then, I suffered from serious symptoms of underweight, and stopped training entirely (apart from walking a bit every day). Good, but also bad. I now have a BMI of 29, but it has been far worse, though my doctor throughout all the changes has maintained that I shouldn't worry too much. Actually, I think my original sports ambitions are at the core of my current problems. It's as if my body lost its ability to self-regulate.
Bottom line: for me that small belly was somehow important for my bodily functions as a whole. Obviously, it's not good for anyone to be overweight (though because of the muscle, I have always had a relatively high BMI, even when I became ill). But there is no easy definition of what is a healthy body, and you can't see it from the "outside". Thanks for the post
posted by mumimor at 1:31 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


So the bar isn't an olympic bar, but an axle. OK Google really wasn't helping me on that. I assumed axle was part of the technique name, rather than the piece or equipment. (That is the difference, ya - not an olympic bar but an axle ?)

That said, still looks awkward to balance and move hands that way. What's the reason behind an axle vs standard bars ?
posted by k5.user at 1:34 PM on February 1, 2012


Oh come on - people are saying it, people do say it.

Chara not only made such a comment then came back with another comment to add more context and clarify - she seemed to understand how there could be confusion about her meaning.

And of course "real girl bellies" suggests that this is a closed set and be others are not real.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:34 PM on February 1, 2012


As for Kate Moss, I think it would be reasonable to say that she represents a pretty widespread "ideal of sexual attractiveness" today, though by no means a universal one.

This would be true if we conflate fashion with selling sex, which is problematic in many ways. Porn tends to be closer to 'selling sex', and in heterosexual male-targetted porn don't tend to look like Kate Moss, except in some specific genres.
posted by muddgirl at 1:35 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


And of course "real girl bellies" suggests that this is a closed set and be others are not real.

If it's a closed set, it's pretty wide from this to this. I like this hairy belly! Very few 'bellies of color,' unfortunately.
posted by muddgirl at 1:38 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Very few larger bellies, too.
posted by Theta States at 1:44 PM on February 1, 2012


@Sidhedevil

Yeah, I am aware mate preference varies for each sex across cultures/societies.
What do you mean by "crap studies"? Bad methods? Overdrawn conclusions? Read any of them?
http://www.ehbonline.org/article/S1090-5138(08)00088-3/abstract

I haven't seen anything (other than anecdotes about loved ones) where anyone anywhere prefers more midsection fat (on average).

@howfar

Ah right I forgot we don't judge our potential mates by their physical characteristics like other mammals. And it's coincidence that abdominal fat is a decent proxy for diabetes and heart disease.

@zennish

You're assuming all olympic athletes are of the same health level.

Sure, maybe it's not a great discriminator for "super healthy" vs "very healthy". Pretty obvious that someone with a "flat" stomach is healthier than someone with rolls of fat on their midsection.
posted by zentrification at 1:45 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


and of course "real girl bellies" suggests that this is a closed set and be others are not real.

That is totally not my read. My read is "The previous assortment of women's bellies that you have seen in the media including on the internet is not at all indicative of the wide range of different ways that people look. Here we present to you an assortment of what the wide range of human variation looks like. Enjoy." I'm having a difficult time seeing this as an affront to anything as "unreal" except for the previous closed set of "women's bellies as represented by mainstream media"

Relatedly, and not about women. I was listening to a podcast featuring Ralphie May who is a very funny but also very obese male comic. And he related how the people on Last Comic Standing, the producers, were actually working against him because, as they told him, he wasn't "the right size" for television. So these sorts of things can also be self-fulfilling prophecies of a sort.
posted by jessamyn at 1:46 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen anything (other than anecdotes about loved ones) where anyone anywhere prefers more midsection fat (on average).

I can't find a cite right now, but there are tribes in Africa (I believe in Mali?) who distinctly prefer women we would consider obese, and who think we're crazy for (generally) preferring skinnier women.
posted by desjardins at 1:51 PM on February 1, 2012


It's Mauritania (geography fail!), where they force-feed girls to make them obese and thus desirable.
posted by desjardins at 1:54 PM on February 1, 2012


Abdominal fat is a fairly reliable visual indicator for health, it's why we find thin waists attractive

For anecdata, there's a photoshoot of Olympic-level athletes, who have to be incredibly disciplined in keeping themselves healthy and fit. Some have six-packs, many do not. Some have thin waists, some do not. I'd argue that there is really no way to tell 'health' from visual assessments of body weight/shape alone.


I have always loved Cheryl Haworth's athletic accomplishments. Here's a link to her Gold on Wikipedia at the 1999 PanAmerican games.

Most of the athletes in her weightlifting class look like she does, body shape and size-wise.
posted by kalessin at 1:55 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ah right I forgot we don't judge our potential mates by their physical characteristics like other mammals. And it's coincidence that abdominal fat is a decent proxy for diabetes and heart disease.

Do we judge "like other mammals"? Is culture really as unimportant as all that? That's before we start thinking about other genetic factors in sexual desire that may inflect gene expression. And there is only an obvious "coincidence" to be explained if we accept your first claim that "we" "find thin waists attractive", which you apparently believe to be a universal truth.

If we approach the problem a little more carefully, we're going to see that it's a complex one, without a pat two sentence answer. Of course genetics is involved in sexual attraction, but this kind of storytelling is harmful to the reputation of evolutionary biology as serious science. There aren't even simple answers to questions about the evolutionary origin of physical characteristics, let alone social ones.
posted by howfar at 2:09 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's Mauritania (geography fail!), where they force-feed girls to make them obese and thus desirable.

desjardins, to be fair: coming up with one example of a small country is more of producing anecdata than data.

The human sexual response is broad, but please provide substantive data that the "median" or "average" responses varies widely and commonly with cultures. AFAICT from magazines across the globe, pretty people are pretty, without much regard to the local standards of beauty... which points rather strongly to there existing rather broad, species-wide beauty ideals.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:18 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's Mauritania (geography fail!), where they force-feed girls to make them obese and thus desirable.

FTA:
“I don’t like skinny women. I want to be able to grab her love handles,” said the 32-year-old. “I told her that if she loses a lot of weight, I’ll divorce her.”
This proves two things. First, that culture is a factor in ideals of beauty. Second, that even in cultures where the ideal is different from ours, people are still misogynistic assholes.
posted by asnider at 2:21 PM on February 1, 2012 [13 favorites]


IAmBroom - I was responding to this specific comment by zentrification: "I haven't seen anything (other than anecdotes about loved ones) where anyone anywhere prefers more midsection fat (on average)."

Mauritania counts as "anyone anywhere," though not "everyone everywhere." I'm sure there is probably an anthropological study of this phenomenon, but I don't have access to academic journals.
posted by desjardins at 2:27 PM on February 1, 2012


AFAICT from magazines across the globe

I think we have to consider the globalization of the media, especially with the advent of the Internet. Many countries have developed tastes for Western food, clothing, music and movies; it stands to reason that they would also adopt Western standards of body-type desirability.

Again, I don't have in hand anthropological studies, but I'd bet that there was more diversity of desirable body types before the advent of globalization, and especially pre-colonization.

Aside: it's unfortunate that I've almost never seen any discussion whatsoever about the body types of men that straight women prefer. Do surveys show that women care about men's waist sizes? I have no idea.
posted by desjardins at 2:38 PM on February 1, 2012


Definitely not an academic journal, but may provide a place to start looking at the research on the topic. Waist-hip ratio.

I am aware of this at all because I was in grad school while Dr. Singh was doing this work at UT-Austin. I haven't personally evaluated the work or the topic.
posted by mimo at 2:41 PM on February 1, 2012


David Zhuang, table tennis, is awesome.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:41 PM on February 1, 2012


It is grim and depressing to me that people are so upset about ladies feeling okay about their bodies that anytime women admit in public that they feel anything but shame and disgust there's like this avalanche of... strawmanning ("So skinny women aren't real women?!?!?!?!?") and vague jabs at the rightness of evopsych ("This is the appropriate hip-waist ratio because I read somewhere that it means that you're fertile and that's what women are for.") and just the general inability of a lot of humans to be like "Huh, well... it's cool if other people feel certain ways about their own body, I guess, on account of how it's their own body and so NONE OF MY BUSINESS."

:(

I have never seen any project even remotely like this rack of any other kind of comment. People seem to me to be fundamentally not cool with women feeling okay about their own bodies. I don't know what that's about, but I don't like it.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:02 PM on February 1, 2012 [50 favorites]


Yeah, I have been really skinny and I'm pretty slender and I love this project and its kin (the real boobs site, the one for mothers, etc.) i didn't have sisters or friends who were big on bikinis-- I had literally no idea other hips fell like mine or weird thighs or whatever. I used to apologize to guys for 'oddities' that were totally normal! I think the article on the h & m bikini-fake- model fiasco illustrated the point of all of this well, when even models couldn't live up to whatever standard they had set for their ten buck thongs.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:19 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah I totally agree, it's actually ok not to hate yourself because you are not some highly debatable healthy ideal. Or all the caveman back in the day wouldn't be coming to your cave because of your off hip to waist ratio.

I think the health thing is utter bs. I mean even though smokers get a lot of crap, it's nowhere near the amount of overweight people and no one has told anyone to hate themselves because they eat too much salt or not enough veggies. Even if people are unhealthy they are allowed and even strongly encouraged not to hate themselves. Self hate is pretty much the biggest impediment to making healthy changes in your like anyone. If shame worked for weightloss America would have an anorexia epidemic, not obesity.

At best it seems some people want to say, ok, ok fat people you don't have to HATE yourself, but really you shouldn't like yourself... Maybe just some sort of zen detachment would be mildly acceptable.
posted by whoaali at 3:37 PM on February 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Loto, that video clip makes me super-scared for her toes! Is it normal to throw the bar down like that? It seems like it could stress the arms to me, but I don't know much about lifting weights.

It's normal in strongman and the sport of weightlifting, both of which are fairly niche. The plates are pretty wide (the bar is 7'), so it's pretty unlikely to hit her toes. As for stressing her arms, dropping the weight is much safer than trying to lower 160lb under control.

What's the reason behind an axle vs standard bars ?

Because they're harder. Strongman developed out of a tradition of basically just doing hard stuff that people would have to do in a job situation. If you look at the other events (keg throws, farmers walks, truck pulls, atlas stones) the common characteristic is just that they're awkward and difficult. If you want something kinda similar, check out the fireman's olympics for example.
posted by yeahwhatever at 3:47 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love my belly, because it takes direction well. I spent a couple of years teaching it to do tricks, and it gets a lot of positive attention when it decides to show off - fluff, stretch marks, and all.

(It's a little jealous of my butt, though, which can also do tricks, because my butt gets all the decorations.)
posted by MissySedai at 4:19 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember seeing a t-shirt that said "It's not a beer belly, it's a fuel tank for a love machine." If it works for dudes, it should work for chicks, too.
posted by jonmc at 4:52 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


/has big beer belly
posted by jonmc at 5:32 PM on February 1, 2012


I don't know what that's about, but I don't like it.

I'm going with "What is patriarchy?" for $100, Alex. It's the same reason we get all crazed about women making reproductive decisions or sexual decisions for themselves. Who do they think they are, not performing their ordained societal role of sexy babymachines filled with self-loathing?
posted by emjaybee at 5:54 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


But at the same time, six-pack abs are almost entirely aesthetic.

I find this a bit dismissive, as if cultivating a six-pack is a project entirely rooted in vanity. I was an athlete in college and did lots of cardio and light weightlifting, and lots of crunches, in pursuit of defined abs, and never got 'em. It wasn't until I started doing CrossFit (note: this is not a shill for CF; I just mean that I had to start doing things that would really build muscle) that my abs started to appear, even though I'm significantly heavier now. For me, at least, my abs are absolutely signifiers that I can deadlift 250 lbs and squat heavy and do all those things that require a lot of core strength.

Of course, I recognize that there's a body type component to it; there are tons of people who train hard and are in great shape but will never have a six-pack, just like I have some abs but will never have thin legs. I just want to point out that for me and many women at my gym, being proud of our abs is totally consonant with our general focus on "Look what my body can do!"

On a different note, I also find it interesting that the "the flat, near-washboard abs" on models, etc., are actually quite different from the ripped "hardbody" abs on athletes. The latter are also often deemed unfeminine, which really suggests the extreme narrowness of what's deemed physically ideal by the media.
posted by ohkay at 6:17 PM on February 1, 2012


If we had found a "Zeus" of Wallendorf statuette portraying a rotund man, nobody would be speculating about who was jerking (or jilling) off to it. The hypersexualization of women takes every form, even when we talk to or about each other- flat bellies are sexy, or big bellies are, or hip-waist ratios. Our definitions of comfort and usefulness and aesthetics are based in who wants to get into bed with you, and it's so hard to frame discussions of female bodies outside of this. I try so hard not to be ok with my belly because it's "feminine" or sexy, and focus on what my body can do, but it's so hard not to frame yourself through that external gaze.

Nobody is a "real woman", slender or curvy. Genuine femininity is a goddamned lie. Let's not get angry about that, because any claims to perfect performance of womanhood is just based on constructed cultural ideals.
posted by zinful at 6:23 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


*Willendorf. Oops.
posted by zinful at 6:24 PM on February 1, 2012


I so excited to see a discussion of strongman events in a Metafilter thread even if it's off to the side.

Axle deadlifts are another strongman event. Using a thicker bar is more challenging to the grip.

The plates raise the bar off the ground and are far enough apart as to not hit the toes when you drop them. Dropping the bar is the difference between trying to carefully lower a large weight, and letting gravity do the work. When you drop it your arms are relaxed, if you try to lower carefully they are tense and fighting the weight.
posted by schroedinger at 8:30 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Er, I am so excited. Too excited for all my words, apparently.
posted by schroedinger at 8:32 PM on February 1, 2012


I am so confused by all this talk about the "real girl bellies" gallery link not showing skinny abdomens and also not showing pretty fat abdomens. What was I clicking through, exactly?
posted by queensissy at 10:38 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that I understand the arguments being made by people who don't see the utility of our mate selection algorithms. If you were to bet on which women would win a race and which women were most likely to get pregnant after a year of unprotected sex, are you claiming that information about waist and hip circumferences would be of no use?
posted by Human Flesh at 1:50 AM on February 2, 2012


I so excited to see a discussion of strongman events in a Metafilter thread even if it's off to the side.

I'm just surprised and happy that there are four people in this thread who know what Ironsport is.
posted by yeahwhatever at 2:42 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to submit too because I have a HUGE, huge scar on my torso I do, too and I almost submitted to the gallery, but stopped myself. Not because I'm ashamed of my scar, hell no, it saved my life (or the surgery that caused it did) but because of how large my stomach is. how sad is it that even in a gallery that is supposed to celebrate all women's bellies, I was still afraid to show mine?

Of course, looking at the fat hatred that is all over MeFi, I am again reminded of why I didn't.
posted by SuzySmith at 5:22 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course, looking at the fat hatred that is all over MeFi, I am again reminded of why I didn't.

In all fairness, I find fat hatred pretty much everywhere. When a woman is larger, everyone online gets to take a shot at her, it seems.
posted by Theta States at 5:59 AM on February 2, 2012


We have a local festival where there is a Strongman competition and usually one or two women are in it, too. It. is. AWESOME. And so much fun to watch. And those ladies NEVER look like Kate Moss. They are built and that includes bellies. :)
posted by jillithd at 6:18 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The notion that back in the 50s the "ideal" was for women who would nowadays be regarded as horribly overweight is almost entirely a myth.

It's more about shape than size. Also undergarments - women in the fifties would more than likely have worn a corset or girdle that would have pushed and pummelled their figure into a particular shape.

If you study 1950s dress making patterns, the sizes do come up tiny - but the proportions are different. I take two sizes bigger than my regular dress size in reproduction clothing because of this - but also, the waist/hip/bust ratio means they fit much better for me, who would be a curvy shape whether I was a size 4 or a size 20.

Having said that, I carry extra weight mostly around my tummy and it does make getting clothing to look flattering very difficult. (My waist-hip ratio is 0.75, but this is probably because the 'tummy' sits above the waistline a little.) I was underweight in my late teens due to just not eating enough, and when I started putting the weight back on it seemed to settle there rather than on my hips. It's difficult, becuas eI work with a man who is extremely body conscious and is always on one fad diet or another to bring his weight down, and all the talk about fat makes me feel much worse about how it looks, as though my flesh is advertising greed. Strangely, though, I do like them on men.
posted by mippy at 7:40 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you were to bet on which women would win a race and which women were most likely to get pregnant after a year of unprotected sex, are you claiming that information about waist and hip circumferences would be of no use?

My family is seriously fertile - I'm only here because my mum had to stop taking the Pill for a month before she could be sterilised. Overweight or not, nobody in my family has had trouble conceiving. So is it a reliable indicator of anything? We;re supposedly primed to find large breasts attractive for reproductive reasons, but breasts are made from fat.
posted by mippy at 7:44 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Although you're right that it's a reasonably safe bet that somebody found [the Venus of Willendorf] sexy; we've got no reason to imagine a narrower range of sexual predilections in those days than now.

Rule 34 of the Stone Age. Represent.
posted by The Bellman at 8:57 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to submit too because I have a HUGE, huge scar on my torso

I've got one too! Seeing other people's scars was the most reassuring part of the gallery for me. Still working on how I feel about it - ok with partners seeing it but less so with being in public in a bikini.
posted by naoko at 9:38 AM on February 2, 2012


I'm not sure that I understand the arguments being made by people who don't see the utility of our mate selection algorithms

I don't see the utility of such a misleading phrase, certainly. The apparent strong species-wide tendency for a majority to select certain characteristics seems like very good evidence for a considerable genetic element in desire. However, characterising this as an "algorithm" with "utility" seems to mischaracterise it in two ways.

Firstly, because gene expression doesn't happen in isolation from environment. It is therefore unlikely that complex social behaviours like desire can be effectively explained in such a reductive manner. We don't have sufficient good data to draw a conclusion either way, but those data we do have suggest a much more complex interaction than the metaphor of an "algorithm" implies.

Secondly, your view of utility appears to be utility at the level of the phenotype, utility to the individual, not to the gene. This is not necessarily objectionable in itself, but one has to be very careful about the implications. The problem with talking about preference and inference on the level of individual judgement is that it puts the cart before the horse. It is not rational selection that matters, but natural selection. As I said above, and as any fule who has read a few (decent) popular evolutionary biology books kno, one needs to be very careful before providing simple accounts of complex phenomena. That there is a real tendency for sexual preference for a high waist-hip ratio to produce increased spread of the genes that lead to this is a decent hypothesis, but it is quite likely to be untrue in this simple form. The potential complicating factors are huge, and ignoring them in order to provide a nice simple story is bad science.
posted by howfar at 9:53 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


My family is seriously fertile - I'm only here because my mum had to stop taking the Pill for a month before she could be sterilised. Overweight or not, nobody in my family has had trouble conceiving. So is it a reliable indicator of anything? We;re supposedly primed to find large breasts attractive for reproductive reasons, but breasts are made from fat.

No kidding. Women in my family fat or skinny basically have big boobs but no hips thus, no curvy hip/waist thing going on, and I can thing of 3 birth control-failure babies (myself included) born to us, and none of them, to my knowledge, ever struggled to conceive when they wanted to.

Yeah, it's anecdata but it works about as well as pondering Caveman Sex Preferences in terms of science.
posted by emjaybee at 10:20 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Abdominal fat impacts fertility (both sexes), individual ancedotes about family members are misleading.
http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/95/5/2107.long
http://www.bmj.com/highwire/filestream/302475/field_highwire_article_pdf/0.pdf
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378512206001423
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378512206001423

@Desjardins - Look at pictures of remaining hunter gatherer and indigenous societies that aren't too marginalized. They're strikingly lean, curvy and muscular.

Research suggests women care more about shoulder/waist ratio on men.
http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=male+waist+shoulder+ratio&btnG=Search&as_sdt=0%2C22&as_ylo=&as_vis=0

@howfar - Nonsense.
posted by zentrification at 11:25 AM on February 2, 2012


@howfar - Nonsense.

Hm. So I can infer that your position, zentrification, is as follows:

"We judge "like other mammals". Culture really is as unimportant as all that. We don't need to start thinking about other genetic factors in sexual desire that may inflect gene expression. There is an obvious "coincidence" to be explained because we universally find thin waists attractive.

We don't need to approach the problem a little more carefully, because it's not a complex one, and it has a pat two sentence answer. Genetics is wholly determinative of sexual attraction, and this kind of storytelling is beneficial for the reputation of evolutionary biology as serious science. There are simple answers to all questions about the evolutionary origin of physical characteristics and also social ones."

Yep?
posted by howfar at 11:39 AM on February 2, 2012


One thing I know for sure some men find, and certainly some cave men found, attractive - women they have shot with. Hence the trope about clubbing women on the head.

Someone who wants to make a mark in he wide-open freewheeling world of Eco-bio should study the male preference for thick, sturdy skulls, or for perhaps female heads well-padded with thick hair or giant beehive hair-dos.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:50 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This would be true if we conflate fashion with selling sex, which is problematic in many ways.

Um, this is wrong on two counts. First "sexual attractiveness" is not the same thing as "selling sex." It's certainly true that there's a great deal of women's fashion which is not about "sexual attractiveness" in any sense. But there's plenty of it that is: i.e., it's about selling an image of women to women as "sexually attractive." Virtually all lingerie fashion, for example, is about selling an image of the "sexually attractive" woman (see e.g. Victoria's Secret): and Kate Moss has certainly been a prominent figure in underwear modelling.

But it's also wrong because you are talking of Kate Moss as if her fame is entirely restricted to the esoteric reaches of the fashion industry. Kate Moss used to be featured regularly in "lad's mags" and other guy-oriented sites. Her fame easily transcends the world of fashion. See, for example, her page at FHM (hardly a "fashion" magazine).
posted by yoink at 11:55 AM on February 2, 2012


Well this is exactly why women are expected to have long hair and men aren't. It makes sense to me, so it must be the reason.
posted by howfar at 11:55 AM on February 2, 2012


One thing I know for sure some men find, and certainly some cave men found, attractive - women they have shot with

It took me awhile to realize there's an "a" missing here. I'm all, "cave men didn't have guns!"
posted by desjardins at 12:12 PM on February 2, 2012


Yeah, if the cavemen had nice guns maybe they wouldn't have had to resort to clubbing the women over the head. Unfortunately for them, bicep development technology wasn't invented until Roman times, under Maximus Steroidabus.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:07 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


took me awhile to realize there's an "a" missing here. I'm all, "cave men didn't have guns!"

If only my phone was to blame. That missing "a" problem is a brain problem. All those clubbings take their toll. It's odd that modern men want their women dumb - obviously, in earlier societies women who had been around would have had the sense knocked out of them.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:33 PM on February 2, 2012


We can call it a criterion or a preference if the word 'algorithm' makes you unhappy. How we developed our preferences for certain physiques isn't the issue that I was addressing. I'm just trying to figure out if there are people that honestly believe that information about the distribution of adipose tissue is totally irrelevant to the process of making predictions about lifespan, athletic performance, and fertility.
posted by Human Flesh at 3:44 PM on February 2, 2012


Mippy and emjaybee, I don't know how to ask this without seeming rude. Do you know how averages and probabilities are calculated? Do you know what a statistical outlier is? Do you understand why anecdotes aren't very cogent?

The race isn't always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.
posted by Human Flesh at 3:58 PM on February 2, 2012


We;re supposedly primed to find large breasts attractive for reproductive reasons, but breasts are made from fat.

Breasts give us different clues regarding parasite load, mutation load, age, and hormonal history than waists.
posted by Human Flesh at 4:31 PM on February 2, 2012


I accept the point, Human Flesh, I just think you are sometimes conflating the issues of sexual desire (which are a manifestation of genetic, environmental and social factors in an evolutionary process) and health (which is related to these, but not the ultimate determinant of them). That is, I think you may be inadvertantly treating the word "fittest" in "survival of the fittest" as if it were synonymous with "healthiest", when it fact it really means something closer to "the most fit for reproduction in prevailing environmental conditions".

It is empirically observable that people between certain weights and with certain proportions tend to live longer. Whether they are more reproductively successful in current conditions is much more debatable. Wealthier people in the developed world tend to be closer to the ideal for long life, but also tend to have fewer children. They also tend to live longer no matter what their body shape. It is possible that the better evolutionary advantage, if these environmental conditions continue or spread, may be for a man to desire fatter women than the current norm.

Saying all this doesn't contradict the empirical observation of the statistical correlation between overall health and body shape, it just suggests that the assertions we make about what it means need to be qualified in their extent and carefully thought through. In an area as laden with ideological and emotional baggage as that of fatness, this is particularly important if we are to avoid tripping ourselves up on our own assumptions.
posted by howfar at 4:56 PM on February 2, 2012


The thing zennish linked to . . . why is Jessica Howard, rhythmic gymnastics, walking on her toe-knuckles and how on earth can someone do that?
posted by Listener at 6:31 PM on February 2, 2012


Human Flesh, I said it was anecdotal, and yes, by golly, I do know how statistics work, thank you for asking.

The point I maintain is that leaping from "we have some data that shows that possibly women with a certain weight distribution tend to be more fertile" to "humans in early human societies which left no records of their societal practices whatsoever must surely have selected mates based on that data," is a big, unsubstantiated leap. And is essentially non-provable unless someone invents a time machine and even then, would require studying massive numbers of early humans through vast stretches of time to determine what, if any, of their mate preferences had a genetic as opposed to, say, a religious or political basis. In other words, in a given early human tribe, the fact that a given man or woman was considered high status, or that they were deemed a favorite of the local tree god because they were born under the new moon, might have had much more to do with their mating success than any physical characteristics they possessed.

Even if humans had never evolved consciousness, I'm not sure I'd buy that they would always select mates on a strict algorithm, but certainly once we did, too many other factors came into play to ever be certain which ones were having the most influence. I have yet to hear a convincing argument for a way to get at our "instinctive" preferences; I have trouble respecting anyone who claims to be a scientist who at the same time ignores this intractable problem and insists that they can find the Philosopher's Stone of human desire, and even more, that essential human desire looks remarkably like their own personal preferences.
posted by emjaybee at 7:52 PM on February 2, 2012


I not only know what ISG is, I even get to work out there! If anyone wants to have a Metafilter meet-up to play with Atlas stones, yokes, and farmer's handles let's go.

(and if you are in Lancaster, PA next weekend you can come watch me compete!)
posted by schroedinger at 9:07 PM on February 2, 2012


A behaviour doesn't need a strong genetic input in order to be adaptive. Memes are subject to the process of evolution just like genes are.
posted by Human Flesh at 1:30 AM on February 3, 2012


Emjaybe, are you equallaly sceptical about the peahen's preference for ornate peacock tails? What about a doe's preferece for antlers on a buck?

Why would the development of our advanced cerebral cortex cause us to lose the mate selection metrics that help us reproduce?
posted by Human Flesh at 1:56 AM on February 3, 2012


We like to flatter ourselves by claiming that we're oh-so different from the rest of the animal kingdom, but the stimuli that get our juices flowing are not all that mysterious or distinguished.
posted by Human Flesh at 3:00 AM on February 3, 2012


The thing zennish linked to . . . why is Jessica Howard, rhythmic gymnastics, walking on her toe-knuckles and how on earth can someone do that?

I used to be able to do that quite easily, back in the day when I was a gymnast. I think it's a combination of being lightweight (as gymnasts tend to be small in stature) and having very strong legs and feet from training barefoot all the time. And flexible ankles. I've always been more fascinated by ballet dancers en pointe, as that's gotta be magnitudes more difficult.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:15 AM on February 3, 2012


Mippy and emjaybee, I don't know how to ask this without seeming rude. Do you know how averages and probabilities are calculated? Do you know what a statistical outlier is? Do you understand why anecdotes aren't very cogent?

Yes and no (I'm not a scientist but I have studied social science methodology) but I also understand that sometimes we don't behave the way evolution wants us to. I'm a female of child-bearing age with an active sex drive yet no personal desire to have children, which seems a little counter-productive. If I were driven purely by instinct, I wouldn't see the need to take precautions. You might call that anecdata, or even part of the same idea that gay people are part of evolution's great plan in terms of naturally cutting down the population by reducing the number of couplings most likely to produce offspring, but we don't always dance to evolution's tune.

After all, there are a lot of fat fetishist and a lot of people who prefer very skinny girls - none of these the shape that men are apparently primed to go for in terms of selecting a partner most likely to provide them with offspring.
posted by mippy at 3:31 AM on February 3, 2012


The fact that maladaptations exist doesn't refute the conjecture that adaptations exist.

I'm not sure if I understand the argument. Is the argument about whether the preferences exist, or whether the preferences are useful?
posted by Human Flesh at 4:07 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


We like to flatter ourselves by claiming that we're oh-so different from the rest of the animal kingdom, but the stimuli that get our juices flowing are not all that mysterious or distinguished.

No. But they are quite complex. This is almost certainly true in the animal kingdom too.

The fact that maladaptations exist doesn't refute the conjecture that adaptations exist.


It does, however, refute the conjecture that sexual desire is directly reducible to the notion of adaptation. Adaptation plays a significant part, certainly, but knowing this tells us very little about how desire functions in any individual or social context. Furthermore, characterising desires whose utility you do not see as "maladaptations" neglects the blind nature of natural selection. As I said above, it is possible that a preference for fatter women may lead to greater reproductive success in the environment as it currently exists. If this is true, at what point do we start to characterise the preferences you regard as adaptive as maladaptations themselves?

I don't think you're fully aware of the extent to which your approach to this tends to conflate selective pressures with subjectively assessed positive characteristics.
posted by howfar at 4:27 AM on February 3, 2012


If we are allowed to "select mates" I select Clive Owen. That's how it works, right? The selected has no say and therefore my selection criteria is entirely independent of any social dynamic.

(But if Clive is wondering, I had sausage for breakfast. We all know sausage breath is a clear sign of fertility.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:45 AM on February 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


It does, however, refute the conjecture that sexual desire is directly reducible to the notion of adaptation.

You can use sex to accomplish non-reproductive goals, but the primary purpose of sex is pretty clear. I don't think sexual desire is reduced to the notion of adaptation; I think it's elevated to the notion of adaptation.

I don't think you're fully aware of the extent to which your approach to this tends to conflate selective pressures with subjectively assessed positive characteristics.

You're confusing me with someone who views specific adaptations as some unchanging platonic ideal that exist independently from the environment. Traits that are adaptive in one environment can be maladaptive in another environment. That's elementary. Dynamism is one of the reasons sexual reproduction is often selected over asexual reproduction.

As I said above, it is possible that a preference for fatter women may lead to greater reproductive success in the environment as it currently exists. If this is true, at what point do we start to characterise the preferences you regard as adaptive as maladaptations themselves?

We do it the same way we establish that any trait is adaptive: we look at populations over time.
posted by Human Flesh at 6:50 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we are allowed to "select mates" I select Clive Owen. That's how it works, right? The selected has no say and therefore my selection criteria is entirely independent of any social dynamic.

(But if Clive is wondering, I had sausage for breakfast. We all know sausage breath is a clear sign of fertility.)


Is this supposed to be some kind of witty riposte that lampoons a real belief?
posted by Human Flesh at 7:03 AM on February 3, 2012


Sort of. I actually have pretty strong opinions about this, but the thread is kind of fighty and I can't be cite-y on my phone.

Also, "witty" is a bit much - unless you're being generous to woo me. Which might work. I should confess (confessing is vulnerable and trusting, tactics to woo) that despite my sausage-breath and other ferility indicators, if I was actually knocked up I would sue the doctor who tied my tubes. (However, eaten even more sausage since the last post!!!)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:49 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


We do it the same way we establish that any trait is adaptive: we look at populations over time.

Look for what? Expressions of particular phenotypes or the existence of particular genes? It's a serious question, there seems to me to be room for different respectable positions on this. Of course the bigger practical difficulty is establishing the period of time for which a trait tends or tended to be an adaptive one. For example the desires you regard as adaptive may actually already be maladaptive in a society where physical health does not necessarily equal reproductive success, in the same way that a desire for sugars and fats may have become maladaptive in a society where they are relatively available. One of the problems with talking about the adaptiveness of a trait is that it is necessarily expressed in the past tense, we don't know how adaptive a trait was until after we have seen it exposed to the environment.

But, as you concede, we're not just talking about genetics, but also about social norms ('memes' if you like). I'm not sure how useful thinking about adaptation is, as a way of providing an explanatory account of behaviour. It is tautological that that which has a tendency to survive will tend to survive. But, as it is difficult in a social environment to identify from generation to generation what will provide an adaptive advantage, and also what cultural artefacts are merely free riders, a whole host of questions about analysis arise. We're essentially back to painstaking analyses of the available data, debate about the relative significance of factors and the likelihood that at any point in time, it will be impossible to provide a full account of what was or is adaptive for any place or time. In other words, using an analysis of adaptation as our starting point would lead us straight back to the problems involved in doing old fashioned history and sociology.

None of this is to say that adaptiveness did not play a significant role in establishing a tendency in men toward a preference for certain waist-hip ratios. Just to point out that, if we're going to get much of anything interesting out of the examination of adaptiveness as it relates to complex behavioural traits like desire, we're going to have to get our hands just as dirty as any cursed historian or social scientist.
posted by howfar at 9:27 AM on February 3, 2012


You can use sex to accomplish non-reproductive goals, but the primary purpose of sex is pretty clear. I don't think sexual desire is reduced to the notion of adaptation; I think it's elevated to the notion of adaptation.

You're misunderstanding my use of the term "reducible", by the way. I don't believe accounting for sexual desire as adaptation to be "lowering", rather that it is reductive. It neglects all the other factors that are involved in shaping desire as a behavioural, social and historical phenomenon. If you think I'm disagreeing with your position because it offends my sensibilities, we're talking at cross purposes. I simply think that your position tends to treat adaptation as providing a clear account of the motivation for behavioural phenomena which is not borne out when you attempt to apply it to the complexity of these phenomena.
posted by howfar at 9:32 AM on February 3, 2012


Look for what? Expressions of particular phenotypes or the existence of particular genes?

Either or both. It depends on your budget and your audience. You sound a little cagey when it comes to epistemology, but you don't sound clueless. You know where to look if you have an honest interest in the ontogeny of behaviour.
posted by Human Flesh at 11:03 AM on February 3, 2012


You're misunderstanding my use of the term "reducible", by the way.

I almost put a *wink* after that sentence, but I decided against that because emoticons and text gestures aren't really my style.

I don't believe accounting for sexual desire as adaptation to be "lowering", rather that it is reductive. It neglects all the other factors that are involved in shaping desire as a behavioural, social and historical phenomenon.

That's a feature, not a bug. Any subject is complex, intricate, and nuanced if you increase the resolution too much. We strip away extraneous details so that we can compress information. Generalisations are useful when we want to look at the forest instead of the trees. Are leks and mating displays really that abstruse to you? Biology is reductionistic, as knowledge should strive to be. You haven't yet convinced me that I've written anything that smacks of what Daniel Dennett would call 'greedy reductionism' (i.e. the counterproductive form of reductionism).

The question that I posted earlier is still unanswered. Is the argument about whether preferences exist, or whether preferences are useful?

posted by Human Flesh at 11:39 AM on February 3, 2012


I'm not sure how useful thinking about adaptation is, as a way of providing an explanatory account of behaviour.

It's useful if you want to get published in a journal on population genetics. An epidemiologist ought to know how to identify selective pressures. I have a hard time predicting why someone would ignore sexual selection if they were studying biology, medicine, or psychology.

It's ignorant to assume that nature has left us with no clues about the forces that govern our behaviour. You are a collection of amino acids. You come from an unbroken chain of successful sexual encounters that leads back to the very first sexually reproducing organism. You have a lot in common with your mammalian cousins.

It is tautological that that which has a tendency to survive will tend to survive.

Yes, at a basic level, the principle of natural selection is a tautology. I still think it's worthwhile to learn the details and implications of the theory.

The Balding–Nichols model, the Hardy–Weinberg principle, the Fisher-Muller Model, the Coolidge effect, the Price equation, runaway selection, the handicap principle, koinophilia, sperm competition, the Bateman principle, negative selection, assortative mating, stabilising selection, and diversifying selection all affect our species. We can't opt out of the natural world just by donning a suit and tie.
posted by Human Flesh at 12:37 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what you're looking for me to say. I'm not denying the significance of natural selection, or the importance of adaptation, as you must know. And yes, of course biologists will view things in terms of biology, which is all I think you mean when justifying yourself in re Dennett. It seems to me that you're looking for a fight with someone who rejects natural selection, in order to prove them wrong. I am not that person.

I have a hard time predicting why someone would ignore sexual selection if they were studying biology, medicine, or psychology.

Indeed, but you do seem to have presented an argument that favours using sexual selection as a primary means of interpretation. I have some concerns about this. If you think you have, well, there you go, best of luck in your future. If you think you haven't, we don't disagree, and best of luck in your future.

As far as I can see, we haven't actually disagreed on any point of fact, only questions of emphasis. I don't think you're interested in talking much about the implications of those emphases, which is fine. I just think you're interested in defending something I've no interest in attacking.
posted by howfar at 1:44 PM on February 4, 2012


Indeed, but you do seem to have presented an argument that favours using sexual selection as a primary means of interpretation.

Primary? I suppose so. Sexual selection is important. I can't think of another filter that would serve as a better means of interpreting mating habits. True, there are non-reproductive sexual behaviours, but those behaviours are still reinforced by monoamines, endogenous opiods, oxytocin, and prolactin—which are the tools that our genes use to regulate volition.
posted by Human Flesh at 4:34 PM on February 4, 2012


I can't think of another filter that would serve as a better means of interpreting mating habits.

In what context? Adaptivity of sexual selection will be a primary choice for looking at long term trends yes, much less significant position when understanding why a phenomenon like the Baby Boom occurred how and when it did, and basically useless for telling us why Scott fancies Charlene. It's not irrelevant in any context, but defending the interpretive value of a reductive biologistic perspective in all contexts seems a little quixotic. But if it pleases you, by all means push on.
posted by howfar at 4:25 AM on February 5, 2012


But if it pleases you, by all means push on.

Don't mind if I do.

The explanation that people give for their own behaviour isn't the whole story. I find the question of why people have any desires at all (i.e. where do desires come from) more interesting than the question of what an individual desires.

While there are variations in physiques and variations in preferences for different physiques, some physiques are more popular than others. The popular physiques correlate with life outcomes. There is a slim chance that our beauty ideals are useless or counterproductive when making decisions regarding the allocation of genes and other resources to our potential progeny. Every day, though, there is more and more evidence that supports the idea that our preferences generally help us with our mating strategies. This is why biologists are so keen to point out characteristics that serve as visible indicators of parasite load, deleterious mutation load, nutritional history, and hormonal history.
posted by Human Flesh at 3:01 AM on February 6, 2012




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