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July 15, 2019 11:58 AM   Subscribe

"Lizzo is a joyous inspiration – but body positivity has come too late for the likes of me" – Grace Dent in The Guardian: "There was no such thing when I was a teen in the 80s... As Lizzo paraded gloriously with her flute at Glastonbury last month, a paean to body positivity, a poster girl for billions of proud, perfectly-imperfect young women worldwide, I finally accepted that, when it comes to radical self-acceptance, I have missed the boat."
posted by bitteschoen (34 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This piece felt more like something relatable I would text to my best friend in a semi-ironic rant about our own body anxieties, but getting it published in an outlet like this feels weird somehow.

Parts of it felt really mean, and not just to the author herself? I dunno, am I missing something? It's one thing for Dent to have missed the boat on forgiving herself for her body, but it seems like another for her to along around things like "I'm not terrifically big" when she's reassuring us that her self-loathing is irrational. Uh oh, what if someone else is so terrifically fat that their bodysuit "fought to conceal" their cameltoe?

Okay, so now that's out of my system, is there something good someone got out of this piece that I could appreciate?
posted by wakannai at 12:22 PM on July 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'm feeling several things from the article. My gut is telling me that there may be some UK racism underlying the tone of the article. And perhaps some weird ageism as well.

And this also may be just a good pisstaking and I'm being USian and misogynistic by judging a woman's pisstake more harshly than I would a man's?

Lots to think about here. Challenging, in many ways.
posted by nikaspark at 12:36 PM on July 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

It'd be great to start my body image over from scratch. It'd be great to start my whole body over from scratch. I wish I'd done a lot of stuff differently as a teenager; I wish I'd existed in a different world as a teenager. I'm not a teenager anymore. "Radical" is usually not a descriptor for things you're going to manage well, when you're over thirty. This reads like a realization that you've passed the point where radical transformation of your thought processes became as unrealistic as radical transformation of your body. It is a hard thing thing to let go, especially because we're way more into radical transformations than incremental improvements.

I hope she can get her head around some version of it that helps her. I hope I can, too.
posted by Sequence at 12:37 PM on July 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

When you're critical of yourself for something, you are basically critical of everyone else for the same thing, whether you intend to or not, no? While I understand where she is coming from, I also grew up with a lot of that body-shaming bullshit, I am reluctant to accept throwing the the hands up in defeat. That's a ton of conditioning to overcome, sure, it's unfair and nasty that anyone would even have to do it.

However, to accept that this person cannot possibly change or recondition herself to think or adopt a different perspective is akin to just saying, oh you hit a certain age and you're just a set-in-stone person, nothing could ever help further evolution.

As a hypocrite in this matter, I feel it only just to point out I would love to wear nail polish, painted my nails several times in life, but despite enjoying it, never made it a regular practice because I didn't want anything else that felt like an obstacle for attracting a mate, as well as being teased or falsely advertising a sexuality. I'm seeing the younger generation of boys as way more accepting of male nail polish, without automatically ascribing it queer qualities.

I have to judge myself for either being unwilling or self-perceivably unable to overcome my own body image conditioning. To be fair, these days I am entirely uninterested in doing anything that would require additional effort or attention in regards to this human-shaped husk I haunt, regardless of social judgement yes I wore these jeans yesterday and tomorrow too thanks
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:40 PM on July 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

I think this piece accidentally gets at something in the way that body positivity has been mainstreamed - it's treated as though the whole point is to be sexually appealing to as many men as possible, which means that you never see anyone over thirty-five. It's all right, in other words, to be young and fat because you've still got "young" going for you and men like that; but once you're not young-young, well, what's the point?

This of course has nothing to do with, eg, being sexually appealing to specific men, like the kind you might actually date; it's just the eternal obligation of women to be attractive to the Universal Man. And of course it has nothing to do with just not hating yourself and feeling like you can wear regular clothes. And nothing to do with people not perhaps being straight.

Hatred of fat and non-normative bodies is totally bound up in hatred of aging and hatred of mothers* and in the way that we as a society still can't really envision ways of being for women that aren't centered around men.

*Not because all women become mothers, but because people project all their own garbage about mothers onto any older woman.
posted by Frowner at 12:50 PM on July 15, 2019 [25 favorites]

wakannai: I got out of this piece the sense that I am not alone in struggling with body positivity - about myself, about others. It's not a happy/good thing, but sometimes realizing bad things about yourself and realizing that you are not alone is a not-bad thing.

I grew up with obesity in my close family, I know that it's a complex issue and that diets don't work (but are a great way to mess up your metabolism). I want to be body positive. But I still have visceral reactions that I can't help, neuroses buried deep in my psyche. Mostly about myself: I was a child who got chubby at age 8, and never stopped being larger. I am also 1.5 Love Island contestants (or maybe 2? how small are they?).

After 40+ years, you would think I'd be used to it, but when I catch sight of myself (in a mirror, in a photo), I always think, "Wow, I didn't realize I was that fat." I don't like the way I look - I try to dress to cover it, but that doesn't usually work. I haven't tucked my shirt in for a decade or more, and I just end up looking sloppy. (It doesn't help that my shape also gives me a bit of gender dysphoria, as it's more feminine than I'm really comfortable with).

No one else ever mentions it, except my SO who worries (rightfully) about my health, because I am not fit (whatever my size). If I were aerobically fit, he wouldn't care. And I worry about my own health - I know I don't get enough exercise and it hurts me physically and mentally.

But I also know that if you offered me a pill that would make me thin, but permanent hurt my aerobic health, I would be tempted. If I were still 15, I would have taken it. I'm mature enough to know that would be idiotic, so I wouldn't do it. But I also don't wear anything sleeveless, or shorts, or skirts above the calf. I change what I do, how I live, and generally have anxiety about it.

And yes, I'm not proud to admit it, but I judge others, too. Or rather, I see others, I have prejudiced thoughts, think "those are such prejudiced thoughts, that is not at all relevant, stop thinking that way". But it's not that easy to just stop your automatic thoughts, because prejudices - even when they are against yourself, people you love - are difficult and ingrained (rather like a stain on the psyche).


As for the race thing: I don't know about that, but there is a huge class aspect to weight in the Anglo-world. I don't know why - whether it's access to better food, participation in physical activities, or maybe just social norms and pressures, but I've never been in thinner crowds than when surrounded by upper-middle-class people, whether in North America or the UK. Rich people really aren't just like you and me - they have more money, and they are thinner.

I have met a few senior-professionals who shop in the plus-size section. But they are few and far between - and it always seems that they are just so brilliant and/or hard-working that they have succeeded despite their weight.
posted by jb at 12:58 PM on July 15, 2019 [15 favorites]

I also found this off-putting although I am having trouble putting into words the reason why. This is a kind of clumsy attempt.

The tone of this piece is so negative and resigned - it feels like a blast of bitter self-hate that doesn't succeed at being self-contained. It does damage to other women, particularly Lizzo. The comment about camel toe (?????) is particularly nasty, something I would expect from a misogynist tweet. I am suspicious of how race factors in to the author's attitudes toward Lizzo and her decision to write about Lizzo in this way.

That's not to blame the author for feeling insecure and wanting to write about it, but it's hard to write about your own insecurities without reinforcing the norms you're insecure about - even if you refrain from negative comments about other women's bodies.

I didn't get any of what Frowner got out of the piece re: the centering of youth and sexual attractiveness in the body positivity movement. I got bitterness that the body positivity movement didn't come early enough for Grace Dent, not the form of the body positivity movement itself.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:03 PM on July 15, 2019 [20 favorites]

When you're critical of yourself for something, you are basically critical of everyone else for the same thing, whether you intend to or not, no?

I've heard this argument before and I don't like it one bit, because it creates this sort of intellectualized framework for denying yourself certain emotions, which can only create more complicated issues. Like, if I feel ugly and unattractive because I have love handles or a paunch, that's OK, because it's my body and I can feel how I want about it. I can process it on my own terms in my own time. I can even express those feelings because they're mine and we should all be free to talk about how we feel, good or bad. And the fact is that I don't apply the same judgments to other people that I do to myself.

It's like, say, playing mini-golf. When someone else is getting frustrated and agitated because they keep missing the hole, I don't think "they're a terrible mini-golfer" - I think "man they're being too hard on themselves, it's just a game." But when I'm at 30 over par on hole 4, it's a whole different ballgame where I'm piling on myself for being the worst golfer evar.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:07 PM on July 15, 2019 [11 favorites]

I kind of rolled my eyes over the "not terrifically fat" comment, but then stopped and reminded myself that it's all relative. A close friend of mine is petite and has always been fit and conventionally attractive. She recently put on 20 pounds and now won't go sleeveless or wear shorts. I would kill to have the body she has now. But that extra weight bothers her and I have to remember to respect that and be kind when she brings it up, rather than dismiss it.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 1:08 PM on July 15, 2019 [10 favorites]

God speed you, Lizzo, majestic in a purple sequined bodysuit which fought to conceal her camel toe.

That is some nasty bullshit. Like, if I'm trying to be as kind as possible, maybe I can muster...pity for the author? Because her psyche is so tied up in knots this whole thing, perhaps she's unaware that she's saying nasty insulting bullshit? If the picture with the article is any indication, she desperately needs a fact-checker because Lizzo has nary such a wardrobe issue in sight. (Also, cameltoe is a problem with tailoring and sizing a garment - it can happen to anyone currently in possession of labia, regardless of weight or gender identification.) Every non-western-standard-of-beauty attribute she mentions uses the most negative description possible (pubes like knotweed? REALLY?) I want to sympathize with her point (I'm old too!) but honestly she's just exposed herself as part of the problem.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 1:11 PM on July 15, 2019 [29 favorites]

Oh, god, should have previewed, Kutsuwamushi makes a better more nuanced point more gracefully than I did.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 1:13 PM on July 15, 2019

After reading the comments I'm just gonna skip the article and watch some more Lizzo videos.

Good as Hell is just so joyous, and the women in the video all so different and beautiful.
posted by emjaybee at 1:16 PM on July 15, 2019 [24 favorites]

This is British and I am not sure if the humour comes through here - honestly not trying to disagree. This column came out in print on Saturday, the Guardian Weekend magazine, on the first inner cover. Normally the issue is quite topical, lately quite feminist. This columnist is the first one recently. I read it then and thought it was insightful. The sentence about 'above all thank you Lizzo' - that is genuine (how do I know?! Because it's the weekend Guardian and that's what they are about). I am maybe the same age as the columnist and felt so similar, like gazing and amazing about younger women like Lizzo and loving it but also knowing that I am so far behind, and hoping that I could be.
posted by peepofgold at 1:28 PM on July 15, 2019 [8 favorites]

Since it's a woman writing for the Guardian, I did the obvious thing and googled "grace dent + TERF" and, uh, let's just say she's got a history of working out her own body issues unpleasantly on other women.
posted by praemunire at 2:26 PM on July 15, 2019 [26 favorites]

She did also write something provocative about paella.
posted by peepofgold at 2:48 PM on July 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oogh. Agreed, I found this extra nasty. There is so much to be said about how youth and able-bodiedness intersects with body positivity. So much to be said about how female secondary sex characteristics themselves are coded "fat" in certain circles in ways both misogynist and classist (note how one of the clothing items the writer rejects as "things [she] is too fat to wear" is actually something that fits, but would not suit her "knockers," and later describes the hazards of being "too womanly").

But she doesn't actually interrogate any of it, or even interrogate why she feels too old to do so. And far more telling are the ways in which she negs Lizzo under the guise of celebrating her.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:52 PM on July 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

Maybe older women can't see themselves in body positivity because the movement has pretty much failed to address aging? Like, I don't really see an "age positive" movement to go with "fat positive", which is weird because aging is far more inevitable than body size. I feel like this goes hand-in-hand with the disturbing tendency, even among progressive and feminist circles, to dismiss older women as irrelevant and out-of-touch.
posted by noxperpetua at 4:10 PM on July 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

I don't get this. Yes, in the 80s, when the author and I were young, there was no body positivity as we now know it. But do we stop being able to change at 50? Or 60? I don't think so. I am inspired by Lizzo, but less because she is a role model and more because I think she would accept my body as much as she revels in her own. I find younger women to be more and more like that, which makes me happy.
posted by pangolin party at 4:21 PM on July 15, 2019 [13 favorites]

Maybe older women can't see themselves in body positivity because the movement has pretty much failed to address aging?

And that's a discussion that's worth having, but making nasty comments about Lizzo's nonexistent camel toe is proooooobably not the best way to start it.

Also, the article doesn't even really address that at all? It's about the timing of the body positivity movement, not the content of it. I feel like people are maybe hungry for this discussion and are seeing it in places where it's not.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:58 PM on July 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

I feel like sometimes folks have a hard time with body acceptance because it would require admitting that they spent decades tormenting themselves for no good reason.
posted by duvatney at 7:09 PM on July 15, 2019 [12 favorites]

I'm with all y'all who didn't get the point of Dent's piece. Well, actually, I did get the point. It felt like punching down to me and not piss-taking at all. There's a rage there at WOC, especially WOC of size, that's really gross and nasty. Dent wasn't piss-taking: she was raging at a queer WOC of size that Dent found off-putting. How dare a queer, plus-size, melanated queen love herself?!? How dare Lizzo encourage fat, brown, queer women to love ourselves??!!?
posted by blessedlyndie at 9:09 PM on July 15, 2019 [13 favorites]

Also, I've read Dent's tweets and her piece about Caitlyn Jenner and Dent's a TERF who can go jump in a fucking hole.
posted by blessedlyndie at 9:23 PM on July 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

Skipped the article when this was first posted as Dent's always had a bit of a nasty edge, and looks like that was a smart call. Dunno what it is about this one crew of British columnists but damn if there aren't better things to do with my time and clicks.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:51 PM on July 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

The sentence about 'above all thank you Lizzo' - that is genuine (how do I know?! Because it's the weekend Guardian and that's what they are about).

I may be naive but I also thought the admiration was genuine, especially given the way she starts the column with words of appreciation for that awesome Glastonbury performance (and maybe I should have made a post solely with that youtube link because it’s worth it in itself! go watch it everyone!). I cannot imagine anyone seeing that and not being awed by the confidence and general infectious "positivity" and enthusiasm, as well as the obvious musical talent and skill.

And I took the seemingly "nastier" bits as self-directed, yeah it’s probably a bit heavy handed on the self-deprecation (and envy!) and that doesn’t maybe translate well across different media cultures. As for the author’s precedents, I honestly hadn’t read anything by her before this. I searched for "grace dent jenner" on twitter and came up with this which doesn’t strike me as particularly terf-ish but I may have missed something? Anyhow, sorry to those who found this too nasty, I didn’t post this because I thought it was a particularly super awesome brilliant take on the topic but I thought it could spur some interesting discussion on personal experiences relating to that. Sorry if that’s not the case, I can have this deleted if everyone thinks it’s not really up to the task of dealing with the topic(s) it raises!
posted by bitteschoen at 7:12 AM on July 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I also get the sense that part of her dismay, as someone whose character feature is 'funny', is the betrayed realisation that bodyshaming humour is rightfully seen now as nasty with no redeeming value, but she's cut her teeth on it, dammit. (so much of that British humour hinged on observational comedy and a lot of that is competing for the most outrageous descriptions, so she'll have to settle for this angle now, while she tries to find another vein of comedy to tap)
posted by cendawanita at 7:44 AM on July 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

She wrote about Jenner having "created" Caitlyn:

"Is Caitlyn Jenner tired of being a woman yet? My Saturday column for @independent"


("If I were Caitlyn Jenner I'd be more than pleased with the woman I'd created – but sometimes, secretly, I'd really quite miss being Bruce.")

I wouldn't call it "full-blown TERF" or unforgivably offensive but I'm pretty comfortable with my characterization of it above.
posted by praemunire at 8:23 AM on July 16, 2019

I totally agree with Kutsuwamushi that I would LOVE to read an article touching on what Frowner and others outlined above -- about aging and its inclusion or lack thereof in the body positive movement.

But this one ain't it.
posted by knownassociate at 8:49 AM on July 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

far more telling are the ways in which she negs Lizzo under the guise of celebrating her

That's what stuck out for me too.

I'm guessing I'm about the same age as the author, and doing a lot of work in my own head about body-positivity (both fat and aging), and GODDAMN I love seeing younger folks taking this stuff on and living. It's a damn inspiration: not to give up because the 80s were what they were, but to do the work on my own head and choose to grow as a person.

[gonna go listen to a bunch of Lizzo now]
posted by epersonae at 11:36 AM on July 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


ah yes, she wrote it but she was in a trance when she wrote it or she wrote it but she was too dense to read it and understand what she wrote, I am not up to hauling out my joanna russ this evening but it's got to be in there somewhere

it's not a great piece, it's not a brilliant piece, it's just a little bit mean and a lot unhappy. but it isn't so dumb as all that. she knows what she's unhappy about. she wrote exactly what you said she wrote, for the reasons you note. she didn't imply it "accidentally." she just said what she said.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:36 PM on July 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

When you're critical of yourself for something, you are basically critical of everyone else for the same thing, whether you intend to or not, no?


that kind of fearful affective constriction is no good for anybody. you can be wrong about what's wrong with you, same as you can be wrong about what's wrong with anybody, and so what.

people find frank bitterness extraordinarily distasteful in a woman of a certain age. personally, I like it in women of any age, so I don't understand this. I suppose younger women's writings that take this same tone don't get the same reaction because with younger women, it's easier to read against the text and reimagine petty human resentment into feistiness or sassiness or some other, sweeter, false flavor.

where the author goes most wrong is in doing exactly this unreading, herself. young women are just as bitter and resigned and negative and critical and nasty as she is. even today, even with the wearisome generational personality trends we have nowadays, they still are, if you know where to look. sometimes more than their elders; they have the energy for it. but nobody really notices or hears it until several decades in. then, they're shocked.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:19 PM on July 16, 2019

ah yes, she wrote it but she was in a trance when she wrote it or she wrote it but she was too dense to read it and understand what she wrote, I am not up to hauling out my joanna russ this evening but it's got to be in there somewhere

No, at no point in the essay does she say or imply "I don't feel included in body positivity because all the images I see are of younger women and this makes me uncomfortable around Lizzo" or "I think the issue with Lizzo is that she's trying to expand the borders of being sexy for men, and that's not what body positivity is about".

She very clearly says that she is too old for body positivity and that her childhood socialization has broken her, and that's why she can't relate to younger women on this issue. She's very attached to the feelings she's learned.

To me, that suggests that body positivity doesn't deal well with aging and that if it did, the writer might not feel so strongly attached to the self-hatred she learned as a kid, but it's not even remotely the same as an essay which says these things.

Frank bitterness - well. I'm not sure "I am bitter because I can't see myself changing the toxic feelings that I learned in childhood" is anything but extremely sad. "I'm bitter because society is against me" seems really different from "I'm bitter because it's difficult and frightening to address long-standing harmful feelings". I can't be too much younger than this writer, and it absolutely is possible to at least mitigate the pain of body discourse from the eighties/early nineties. Struggling against the belief that because I'm not young anymore it's too late and I might as well hate myself, shame myself and feel a lot of discomfort around people who don't was a big part of what I did in therapy, and it did really help.

I'm sure I'm fatter than the writer.
posted by Frowner at 5:24 AM on July 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

For that matter, in her many, many reviews Joanna Russ was pretty sharp about unclear or politically dubious writing.
posted by Frowner at 5:26 AM on July 17, 2019

After reading the comments I'm just gonna skip the article and watch some more Lizzo videos.
damn if there aren't better things to do with my time and clicks
[gonna go listen to a bunch of Lizzo now]

Lizzo at NPR's Tiny, Tiny, TINY-ASS Desk
Ya ya yee!
As much as I've come to love her stage show, this funky little live band setup is very, very good.
posted by carsonb at 11:07 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

carsonb: that Tiny-ass Desk would deserve its own FPP!
posted by bitteschoen at 12:10 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

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