After a certain point it's just patch, patch, patch
August 2, 2019 7:18 PM   Subscribe

"Figuring out how to “get better” at being a woman is a ridiculous and often amoral project – a subset of the larger, equally ridiculous, equally amoral project of learning to get better at life under accelerated capitalism. In these pursuits, most pleasures end up being traps, and every public-facing demand escalates in perpetuity."
posted by Lycaste (46 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
I like Tolentino's writing and I think this is really interesting overall, but I'm a little tired of the "this convenient thing is actually just a cog of our rotten society" trope (w/r/t Sweetgreen) that I feel like I see in a lot of contemporary leftist cultural criticism. Overthinking a bowl of kale, to paraphrase a Metafilter catchphrase.

Like, I guess it feels to me like the writers who utilize this trope are mistaking how they engage with things like Sweetgreen or barre for how everyone engages with it. Sort of like how when David Foster Wallace wrote about how cruises made him think about suicide, but attributed that feeling to the cruise itself rather than his own state of mind.

And so, weirdly, supposedly positive things like eating vegetables and exercise are presented as somehow tainted or problematic when, in fact, we live in a country experiencing an obesity epidemic because of the proliferation of processed foods and sedentary lifestyles. I suppose it's making the case that the commodification of those things is the problem, but I think it's a pretty tenuous case.
posted by mpbx at 7:44 PM on August 2, 2019 [31 favorites]


I think since Tolentino adapted this from her just about to be published book Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion we can take it more as a memoir than societal critique. Like it's in these moments, of "back dancing" or kale salad eating, that Tolentino sees herself refracted and conflicted within the structures of capitalism and patriarchy. Other people have their own moments of wtf, how did I become programmed this way. (Mine was when I really wanted that Platinum status on the airline I flew the most so I could breeze past all the chumps. AAAHHHHH. Efficiency and the sense that I am special. You got me!)
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:02 PM on August 2, 2019 [16 favorites]


But the psychological parasite of the ideal woman has evolved to survive in an ecosystem that pretends to resist her.

Ah, the panopticon.
posted by cendawanita at 8:50 PM on August 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


supposedly positive things like eating vegetables and exercise are presented as somehow tainted or problematic when, in fact, we live in a country experiencing an obesity epidemic because of the proliferation of processed foods and sedentary lifestyles. I suppose it's making the case that the commodification of those things is the problem, but I think it's a pretty tenuous case.

In most times and places, people have not been relentlessly bombarded with illusions of choice in the way that modern inhabitants of capitalist societies are. Like, for most of human existence, eating vegetables and burning calories in your free time have not been strong aspirations or sources of anxiety. Vegetables were available, or they were not available... end of story. It is precisely BECAUSE our capitalist society is experiencing an obesity epidemic that corporations have been so effectively jabbing at the body image anxieties of so many people, especially women. Poor people who are stuck with corn syrup and McDonald's tend to put on weight; people who can afford 12-dollar salads, though... As soon as eating a salad gets tied up into our self-judgments and fears about our bodies, our attractiveness, and our social status, the salad becomes much more to us than a bunch of leaves in a bowl. And that's the part that I think is problematic.

Sweetgreen is not JUST a salad. It's locally sourced, it's farm to table, etc, etc, etc. You can look on the wall and see where your goat cheese is being trucked in from. The place is a psychological feeding trough for all those buzzy food-related signifiers that a lot of middle class people are super into these days. It's a brand. It's ASPIRATIONAL, and it reflects our desires and our self-judgments back at us. Like Tolentino, I also get weirded out at places like Sweetgreen. Yet, as you say, isn't it kind of crazy to think of salads and exercising as secretly evil or whatever? Yeah, on its face that does sound absurd. But the vibe I get there is just strange. As Tolentino talks about, it all gives the impression of being relentlessly optimized. I feel ever so faintly inferior when I eat in a Sweetgreen. Ever so faintly like a chubby hick.

I relate a lot to Tolentino's sense of exhaustion at the way people are encouraged to min-max every part of their lives. Life in capitalist society gets more regimented as people get squeezed tighter and tighter: every moment could be more useful, every worker could use a side hustle (and oh my god, I wish I could punch the ad exec who decided to start leveraging that phrase into public use). Optimization has been lifted from factory floors and marketed into our personal lives. It's exhausting. It leaches joy and spontaneity out of things. Everything is now grist for the mill. More and more, I want my daily life to have moments that are immune from this sense of min-maxing, from the eternal trudge of optimization and all the self-judgment that comes with it. I want to have something in my life that can never be twisted toward anyone's quarterly yields or squeezed for anxiety. The closest thing I have to that is my spiritual practice and the time I spend with other folks doing the same deal. I'm very lucky to have that.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 10:42 PM on August 2, 2019 [46 favorites]


When you leave comments about the obesity epidemic, two things I ask you to remember. First, it is not a factual epidemic, and if you’re blaming anything on capitalism, consider the $60 billion diet industry in your concerns. Second, please remember that fat people are your fellow mefites. I am neither sedentary nor am I someone who eats much processed food. Some of us might be, the same as people in smaller bodies might be, but we don’t moralize them like we do fat bodies.

Your presumption that fat people are fat because we don’t move our bodies or eat properly causes us to experience discrimination in housing, healthcare, education and employment. If you are worried about poor people and/or fat people’s health then you can focus on reducing stigma and behaviors instead of continuing to focus on a meaningless measure like BMI. Less stigma = better health.

I know that’s a lot to put on one throwaway line, mbpx, but you’ve reinforced a shitty environment for anyone who has experienced weight stigma, and makes it hard to engage with a thread about unrealistic beauty standards when the first comment is about how what’s really wrong is...fat people. It seems like we’re now going to continue to talk about how what fat and/or poor people eat is the problem. I’m requesting that you read a few of my links and consider changing the language you use. Instead, talk about systems and behaviors that lead to poor health, of which weight stigma and the well documented problems with weight cycling playing a large role. Talk about shitty food all you want but recognize that we vastly overestimate the role food plays in health and underestimate more important factors.

I’m exhausted from having to be the voice for fat people on metafilter. I really hope you recognize the time and care it takes to write a comment that pulls journal articles (which I then had to find cited in publications that aren’t paywalled) and to be as polite as possible when really I’m just angry that I can’t read an essay by Jia, who I love, and discuss it in this community without having to deal with comments about fat people and our shameful eating habits.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:27 PM on August 2, 2019 [131 favorites]


"To read more about Tolentino's sense of exhaustion at the way people are encouraged to min-max every part of their lives, and how life in capitalist society gets more regimented as people get squeezed tighter and tighter: how every moment could be more useful, every worker could use a side hustle, please purchase her book, now available on Amazon for $19.95..."
posted by happyroach at 1:16 AM on August 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


Okay, now I have a few more things to say more directly related to criticism of Tolentino’s piece, though mostly I’m still incredibly frustrated by the comments here about it so I’m going to talk directly to them. She’s presenting the popularity of barre and Sweetgreen as being yet another sign of how women are expected to optimize our bodies for mass consumption, not at all criticizing all movement or nutrient dense food.

In the U.S., barre and most movement marketed to women are touted as efficient ways to sculpt our imperfect bodies into the beauty ideal. We are told that moving our bodies must always be to change how they look and since we have a thousand other social contracts to uphold (gotta Lean In at home and at work) we’re supposed to pick classes that get results fast. Exercise isn’t acceptable unless we’re doing the most efficient movements to build the right kind of muscles and to change our bodies to fit into Lululemon pants. They don’t make them in plus sizes for a reason, as the essay says.

If you haven’t been socialized as a woman, it would be helpful for you to believe Tolentino and myself when we talk about how we’re told over and over again not to trust our bodies with food or movement. We’re not doing it right if we like to walk or swim or eat intuitively because we can’t be trusted. Her essay (and I assume her book) are absolutely not eschewing moving your body for pleasure and fitness or eating in ways that feel good.

We don’t market barre to diverse bodies except to promise those bodies they can change to fit the ideal. That’s what Tolentino is writing about:
Barre is results-driven and appearance-based – it’s got the cultishness of CrossFit or a boot camp class, but with looks, not strength, as its primary goal. It’s only vaguely connected to ballet in terms of your actual movements, but conceptually, ballet is essential to the pitch. Among women, ballerinas have a uniquely legitimate reason to look taut and disciplined. There are plenty of other women who are thin and graceful-looking by professional requirement – models, escorts, actors – but ballerinas meet the beauty standard not just in the name of appearance or performance but also in the name of high athleticism and art. And so an exercise method even nominally drawn from ballet has the subtle effect of giving regular women a sense of serious, artistic, professional purpose in their pursuit of their ideal body.
Do you know how exclusionary spaces like a barre class are for anyone not white, thin, and well-dressed in the right clothing? Have you considered how shitty it is that almost all fitness spaces advertise themselves as places one can go to ensure they don’t look like people like me? Fat people who exercise and don’t change their body shape are said to be failures even though exercise, like diet, does not cause substantial weight loss in the long-term. It takes a lot of deprogramming to continue to exercise when you’ve given up the fantasy of being thin, don’t you think? How many people would go to barre class if they thought it wouldn’t make their bodies look a certain way? If they weren’t united in feeling like they’re being Good and Virtuous?

It is precisely BECAUSE our capitalist society is experiencing an obesity epidemic that corporations have been so effectively jabbing at the body image anxieties of so many people, especially women. What? No, that timeline is backwards. I urge you to read more about the history of dieting to understand its roots in white supremacy and the patriarchy. Controlling what we eat came from a desire to control sexuality and teach discipline to “unruly” bodies. The rise in dieting backfired spectacularly because diets don’t work (even if you call them a lifestyle change) and cause weight gain and poorer overall health in the long term, but it’s the perfect model for a company like Weight Watchers whose business model is based on the 95+% failure rate of their customers in the long-term. The fatter diets make us the more money the diet industry makes. I think maybe your comment might be making that point but I’m disturbed at the implication that “the obesity epidemic” is somehow to blame for diet culture itself, it’s the opposite.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:38 AM on August 3, 2019 [66 favorites]


Should she work for free, happyroach?
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:39 AM on August 3, 2019 [12 favorites]


I thought Barre was for ladies who missed out on ballet and want to try it in an environment with other women instead of feeling awkward in a studio with classes prominently geared towards young girls.
posted by VyanSelei at 1:59 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Should she work for free, happyroach?

I read it more as a comment on how inescapable a lot of these pressure are, and how we cannot effectively exist in society without reproducing them. But I might be being very generous.
posted by Dysk at 2:00 AM on August 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


I also thought sweetgreen was a fast food style alternative for eating healthier. Not entirely fast food like with a drive thru, but at least faster than a sit down style restaurant. If you're out and about and hungry but ARE trying to eat healthier, I figured sweetgreen or similar would *help*.
posted by VyanSelei at 2:02 AM on August 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


Dysk: no, that makes sense! I’m in a defensive space and should have read that more charitably, too. Sorry happyroach and thanks Dysk for a better perspective.

VyanSelei, the article talks about the origins of barre and her criticism of Sweetgreen addresses your second comment too, I don’t mean to be uncharitable (see the first half of my comment) but did you read those sections?
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 2:05 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I kind of agree with mpbx's comment before it was derailed. This woman seems to have a disordered way of engaging with herself and her environment and wants to project that onto society at large. I was socialized as a woman, I do barre-style exercises at home, when I can be bothered, because they are simple, low impact, and build strength, and one of these yoga-pilates-fusion spinoff things got me doing pushups with better form than the army ever did, and that strength will hopefully protect me as I age. I feel no compulsion to min-max my life, I do them as and when they suit me. Honestly, metafilter is filled with a lot of disordered thinking projected as universal experience.

If you haven’t been socialized as a woman, it would be helpful for you to believe Tolentino and myself when we talk about how we’re told over and over again not to trust our bodies with food or movement. We’re not doing it right if we like to walk or swim or eat intuitively because we can’t be trusted.

Sure, some peoples' experiences, but not everyone (who was socialized as a woman)'s by a long shot. Believe me too.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 3:20 AM on August 3, 2019 [15 favorites]


Your presumption that fat people are fat because we don’t move our bodies or eat properly

This is not my presumption. I recognize there are a host of reasons, many beyond our control, for weight gain. Being sedentary and a diet high in calories are merely two of them, and our capitalist society contributes to those. This is not a moral judgement, and I apologize if it came off that way. I realize this is a personal issue for a lot of people here and hope you can understand I did not intend to contribute to any broader stigma around weight. I merely wanted to point out that vegetables and exercise are good things most Americans don’t get enough off because capitalism has designed society in a way that makes it difficult to do so.

Sweetgreen is not JUST a salad. It's locally sourced, it's farm to table, etc, etc, etc. You can look on the wall and see where your goat cheese is being trucked in from. The place is a psychological feeding trough for all those buzzy food-related signifiers

Again, this is an example of how supposedly positive things (supporting small businesses, non-factory farming, organic farming, corporate transparency) are being cast as negatives. Again, I recognize that perhaps the co-opting of these things by a corporation may be the problem, but why is knowing where your ingredients come from some kind of psychic assault?

Like Tolentino, I also get weirded out at places like Sweetgreen. Yet, as you say, isn't it kind of crazy to think of salads and exercising as secretly evil or whatever? Yeah, on its face that does sound absurd. But the vibe I get there is just strange. As Tolentino talks about, it all gives the impression of being relentlessly optimized. I feel ever so faintly inferior when I eat in a Sweetgreen. Ever so faintly like a chubby hick.

Right, but there’s nothing inherent in Sweetgreen that causes this. Your feelings are valid, but they’re yours. I used to get panic attacks at the mall because I felt like everyone was looking at me and judging me and that I didn’t fit in. But they weren’t, I was just freaking myself out. For a while I allowed this to manifest as a dislike of malls. But it wasn’t the mall’s fault, it was just the venue for my anxiety. There are other problems with malls, problems that may be obscured by layering my personal issues over them.
posted by mpbx at 4:01 AM on August 3, 2019 [15 favorites]


Like, you say Sweetgreen is relentlessly optimized, but that list of 100 different sources for ingredients says the opposite.

True optimization would be getting everything from Sodexo and calling it a day. Infusing everything with HFCS. Battery hens. That’s the pernicious optimization that we live with every day, which is invisible and omnipresent. A line of people mixing a fresh salad right in front of you, allowing you to customize at will, is practically a miracle in this world.
posted by mpbx at 4:07 AM on August 3, 2019 [8 favorites]


the thorn bushes have roses: When you leave comments about the obesity epidemic, two things I ask you to remember. First, it is not a factual epidemic

That letter to the BMJ was written as part of a pair, each taking the other side of the argument, and was written a decade ago. If you’re going to quote the literature on obesity then that’s the worst kind of article to choose because it’s deliberately written to be partially selective - the conclusion comes before the argument.

(“Is the obesity epidemic exaggerated? No” is the matching article taking the other side published in the same edition of the BMJ. I wouldn’t trust that one in isolation either, for the same reasons.)
posted by pharm at 4:13 AM on August 3, 2019 [16 favorites]


why is knowing where your ingredients come from some kind of psychic assault?

Speaking only for myself, and about similar places in countries I've actually been to: It's the mark-up associated with it, and how it ties in to a broader cultural context - it's a reminder of how much you're failing the rest of the time. Also, it can be the way it's part of a broader series of class markers (again, the markup is part of this), which is often experienced as if not deliberately an attempt to create an environment that tells a lot of people they aren't welcome (and weight absolutely ties into these class markers and judgements).
posted by Dysk at 4:54 AM on August 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


Also, it can be the way it's part of a broader series of class markers

I get this, though I feel it more in a place like Shake Shack, which seems almost explicitly designed to be “fast food without the poors.”

But I also think complaining about “optimization” the way this article does is order a form of privilege. McDonalds and other fast food places are the true dystopian optimization stories — just look at that MeFi thread about how the workers are scheduled by management and harassed by customers. Complaining that Sweetgreen is making you feel inadequate because they offer you fresh ingredients seems a little out of proportion.

it's a reminder of how much you're failing the rest of the time.

Ok, but the thing and how you feel about the thing are different things, you know? That you feel bad about not being able to eat well all the time doesn’t make eating well a bad thing.
posted by mpbx at 5:01 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ok, but the thing and how you feel about the thing are different things, you know?

Sure. But I'm not sure what your objection is then? People have feelings about things, and express them in personal essays that aren't going to meet rigorous analysis about where things are correctly attributed. "The thing is awful" is generally understood to be an opinion. And like, the whole setup is fundamentally about marketing, about making you feel a particular way (that's why the reminders are plastered all over the walls, after all) so it doesn't seem strange to engage with that in an emotional way? I don't think you can expect people to qualify everything with "I don't like the thing" instead of "the thing is awful" or "the thing creates feelings of [whatever]" in this kind of personal writing, it's such a common and ingrained rhetorical device.
posted by Dysk at 5:08 AM on August 3, 2019


I feel like this kind of womanhood is inextricably linked with class. Sweetgreen, barre and Lululemon are for a very specific type of woman. As someone raised as a plebe I feel free to pursue that consumption direction but it would go against what society expects from me.
posted by Selena777 at 5:39 AM on August 3, 2019 [14 favorites]


[One deleted. mpbx, you've expressed your personal feelings about the article several times, but you need to let the discussion get beyond just reacting to your thoughts at this point. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 5:41 AM on August 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Isn't the idea that there's something wrong with wanting to spend your time on other things than mindfully savored meals ("free one’s hand and eyes from the task of consuming nutrients", "a brief break to snort down a bowl of nutrients that ward off the unhealthfulness of urban professional living") also a kind of tyranny of the ideal woman? Kind of what Taffy Brodesser-Akner was talking about in that piece from last week?
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:49 AM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


But I also think complaining about “optimization” the way this article does is order a form of privilege.

So I want to run with this idea for a second, because I think you're 100% right that being able to have the time and space (and access to audience) to write this article is born of privilege that not everyone has.

Whatever privilege Tolentino has, it's less than those who manage her and create the expectation that she won't take a real lunch break with time to think. Moreover, she's chosen to spend it trying to point things out that she believes will push society in a more just direction, rather than trying to become the manager who can exploit others.

I guess the thing is that some people have privilege, and sometimes that blinds them to broader perspectives and we make fun of it, and that's cool. Sometimes people have privilege and try to use it to change things. I think that's pretty okay.
posted by thegears at 5:51 AM on August 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Barre is a manic and ritualized activity, often set to deafening music and lighting changes. The rapid-fire series of positions and movements, dictated and enforced by the instructor, resembled what a ballerina might do if you concussed her and then made her snort caffeine pills – a fanatical, repetitive routine of arm gestures, leg lifts and pelvic tilts.

Whoa this definitely needs to be read with the framework that this perception is an effect of the author’s mindset filtering the reality of a barre class. The pace of a class can be a little overwhelming to beginners but for me at least it quickly became just the right pace to get into that zen state of flow. I often go after a stressful day of anything and have no choice but to be focused and ‘present’ for the class. I typically leave calm and relaxed. Maybe this pace just isn’t right for the author but other, slower classes or activities I’ve tried make me want to stab my own eye.

Maybe she also went to a crappy studio. Most exercise classes are ‘dictated’ - what else are you paying for? I gladly hand over the responsibility of thinking up what to do next - it’s a duty I have everywhere else in my life. But I’ve never felt ‘enforced’ - that’s just bad customer service.

Last she is inaccurate about costs. Classes may be $40 in some regions but that’s not a universal rate. The package I have works out to 10 classes a month at $15 each, and I could attend more classes to make the rate cheaper.

Anyway, I know some people hate barre and some people hate running and some people the yoga. Isn’t it great that none of us have to do these things but that they’re all available if one of them suits you?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:14 AM on August 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


you've expressed your personal feelings about the article several times

Sorry, I was just responding to Dysk’s question. I didn’t realize I was getting in the way of further discussion.
posted by mpbx at 6:20 AM on August 3, 2019


I got really excited when I started reading this, because I was having a conversation last week with my students about related ideas – the intersections of capitalism and gender, and also how body image and body-related agency connect to class. I then got a little disappointed that it turned out to be so personal, for purely selfish reasons that a more rigorous take on this would be really handy for my classroom, whereas this is more of a data point.

It is an interesting (and by interesting I mean horrifying) example of how our culture makes people pay for one kind of privilege with another kind of oppression. YMMV on which parts of the described lifestyle are felt as oppressive, clearly.

Anyone got suggestions for similar reading, besides the linked author's book?
posted by threecheesetrees at 6:30 AM on August 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


Anyhow, her characterization of barre as the most efficient, optimized exercise for the woman who just wants to get back to her unhealthy professional lifestyle is the push I needed to think about going back to class.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 7:34 AM on August 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm not surprised that a piece criticizing efficiency and optimization as being sold to women through wellness is meeting defensiveness on metafilter. The fatphobia on here is rampant and even in a piece that is a thick with various layers of critique of capitalism and patriarchy, the wellness blinders are sending this conversation in some wild places. Not everyone feels that way about Sweetgreen and barre? Yeah, of course, this is how essays work, they bring up new ideas, or ones different than our own. Did we think about those things as products for even a second before dismissing a very intelligent writer's work because we buy into the optimized life or the wellness lifestyle? Thinking about how capitalism and patriarchy manipulate and market and perpetuate and distort is analysis 101. I almost don't know why I'm engaging because as I try not to engage with health related or adjacent content on here. It is usually triggering. "Obesity epidemic" my ass. Thanks the thorn bushes have roses for putting in the work.
I strongly think people are missing and dismissing some interesting points in this essay because of bias.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 7:37 AM on August 3, 2019 [34 favorites]


Well, I read this essay, got to the end, saw it was from a book, and immediately reserved it from the library (take that, capitalism!). Thanks for posting this! As someone who feels guilty about buying $12 salads and really wanted to be a barre person but felt an overwhelming feeling of “this class is so weird, who are these people, I wish I could touch my toes, oh my god these are not my people,” this essay spoke to my urban, IT cubicle worker, upper middle class, female experience.

I don’t know about those Instagram lifestyle ladies, though. That whole phenomenon seems so ridiculous but also 100% possible to avoid - I only follow people I know on Instagram (plus AOC and Monty Don), so my feed is full of real life and garden photos.
posted by Maarika at 7:55 AM on August 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


This is excellent! I'm so sorry that the excellent content of this essay got nitpicked on barre and sweetgreen because while I'm unfamiliar with both, I cant agree more with her overall premise. She does a wonderful job expressing the relentless pressure I and my lady friends feel to perform a certain kind of public womanness focused on effortless white thinness (pictured in nature or with close up friend faces smashed cheek to cheek).

Thank you for a wonderful essay - I'm thrilled to have read it, even though I almost skipped it after reading most of the comments here. Thank you The Thorn Bushes Have Roses for your researched and highly self-policed response.

I'm sad it was necessary to end the derail but I'm grateful- I wouldn't have bothered with the essay without your comment. My personal thanks to you for your work.

Requesting from my library immediately!
posted by esoteric things at 8:24 AM on August 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


I also appreciate how essayists like Tolentino are re-narrating the meaning of what is labeled as good for you as also part of a really really bad system. There is nothing pure in 21st century capitalism, which doesn't mean don't eat salads (or don't enjoy them even), but also means, don't let the salad obscure how our desires and fears and even our desires to escape our desires can be molded.

Instagram is still hard for me to fathom. Influencer aesthetic seems to be so specific and relentlessly aspirational/artificial -- the close up shot of food or what have you seems a direct descendent from Kinfolk magazine, which was a copy of Japanese design mags, which... But also so much about being authentic and your own personal journey that I keep on thinking about if there is a livejournal way of being on Instagram. I guess that's your secret Instagram that only your friends know about? But what about meeting random internet people who are also grouchy and like your cryptic use of html tables to showcase your 100 photos of roofs?
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:01 AM on August 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


I’m really glad to wake up to a conversation that engages with the essay and hasn’t continued to find ways to dismiss it. Barre and Sweetgreen aren’t the point, of course. It’s just what Tolentino has found herself connecting with and then questioning why. Like many people, I want to be able to eat more nutrient dense food quickly during my limited lunch hours and when I’m tired it feels great to go to a fitness class and turn off my brain. I can do all the workouts that I do in the classes I take on my own but I like someone else telling me when and how to do it when I’m so burnt out in life that making another decision would just about kill me.

I don’t have a lot of time to get my heart rate up during leisure activities, I have a set amount of time to do it in between all the other shit we have to do in a society that wants us to be optimally productive all the time. I rejoice at all the fast casual restaurants serving organic whole foods that I enjoy but don’t have time to cook at every meal. I rejoice at how cheap the boot camp class I go to is because it’s so ubiquitous that it got cheaper. But I weep for the endless drudgery involved in it all and question what I would really be doing if I had more free time and autonomy. That’s what this essay was about, not about whether Sweetgreen is good or if barre is or isn’t a good workout. The more I work, the more money I have to spend to make it possible for me to work more. That is so fucked up.

I want to reiterate again the harm done by the “obesity epidemic” and subsequent desire for folks to make sure we’re eradicating fat bodies. pharm, I have seen your comments here over the years and they have made me stop engaging in many threads. There is not a single link in the world that would convince you, but there has been research that using personal stories will convince people to stop fatphobia so I am doing that now. Please know that fat people and anyone who fears being fat doesn’t forget for a single second all the loss of privilege that comes along with it. You don’t need to remind us.

I am begging again to anyone who insists that we need to talk about the “obesity epidemic” to consider going forward to think about weight stigma, to consider how your comments affect your fellow mefites, and to ask what you hope to achieve. I have to believe you want to help fat people be as healthy as they can be. Your comments do the opposite. People will respect and take care of their bodies when they are treated with respect, not made to feel like burdens. When we know with overwhelming research that we don’t have a way to make fat people thinner long-term, focusing on weight as a marker of health is stunningly unhelpful. Memail me anytime if you’d like to discuss and maybe we can keep more of it out of threads like this.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 9:09 AM on August 3, 2019 [25 favorites]


Do you know how exclusionary spaces like a barre class are for anyone not white, thin, and well-dressed in the right clothing?

Agreed completely, but one quick note because I see it all the time at Metafilter: Jia Tolentino is not white, she is Filipina.

And given the expensive nature of both Sweetgreen and barre classes, I'd say class (and/or precarity) is a significant determinant of this anxiety and exclusion.
posted by Ouverture at 10:02 AM on August 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Let's call it done on the sidebar about the phrase "obesity epidemic" please; we've had that same general exchange many many times. There's plenty of more specific, more novel stuff to talk about in the actual linked essay. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:18 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


We are told that moving our bodies must always be to change how they look

The thing that struck me most about weight lifting was the mental shift from trying to be less of myself to trying to be more of myself. I hadn’t realized there was this underlying desire every time I exercised, this assumption that less of me was better, until I tried lifting, and the point was strength. And I am not someone who has ever gotten caught up in barre or any other skinny white lady fitness fad, because I have never been the right kind of woman for that. I went to one of those classes, once, and I laughed at how much of an alien I was there, just not being super femme. And yet. That drumbeat was there, an underlying rhythm that I wasn’t even aware of.

I’m glad that lifting is becoming more widespread among women generally, but I’ve noticed that as it’s become more acceptable for women, the old standards and perspectives seem to have started to creep in. People lift not so much for strength but for aesthetics. Which, ok, but also: that is so tiring. I’ve always wished I had access to a weight lifting / MMA / gymnastics gym that catered to everyone but cis men, because it would make my life way more pleasant, but I’ve begun to wonder how long it would be before that fictional exercise utopia was infected by the relentless demands of this optimization imperative.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:38 AM on August 3, 2019 [17 favorites]


Oh that does put into words my general feeling that the whole min-maxing approach to performative feminity seems to be one of those consequences from attaching positive results in gender empowerment (eg women in labour force) to masculinized ideals. I mean, it takes extremely little to imagine a guy version of this hamster wheel, especially a white tech bro version.
posted by cendawanita at 11:08 AM on August 3, 2019


Yeah, so beyond the sweetgreen/barre derail, for me the idea of min-maxing/optimization really rang true. I'm the same age as Tolentino (31), and I think that the pervasive role that social media has played in my life since I was a teenager is a huge part of this. I don't even have an instagram, but I still have this urge to curate my life as if it's an instagram feed. When I sit down to a meal at a restaurant or go on vacation or go for a run, it's like a background track in my mind: does this fit my aesthetic? Is this moment moving me closer to what I would be doing if I was The Perfect Version of Myself? (Thinner, prettier, more interesting, more poised)

I do so many things in the name of self care: eat my vegetables, take care of my skin, run and exercise, call my mother, travel. And sure, I'm better for these things; they're healthy habits and I enjoy most of them. But ultimately all of these things are also aspirational-- I will be thinner and look more athletic, my skin will be clear, I will have a perfect relationship with my family, I will be an adventurous, well-traveled person. I will be healthy and have more energy to devote to self improvement.

I think a lot of millenial women I know conflate working towards aspirational goals with self care. Like, once you achieve all your goals then you'll be happy with yourself and loving yourself is what self care is about, right? So let's get to work.
posted by geegollygosh at 12:50 PM on August 3, 2019 [15 favorites]


I feel like this kind of womanhood is inextricably linked with class.

Bingo. This reads like (dystopian) science fiction to me. Between my socio-economic class (very blue-collar) and my interests (geeky), this essay has nothing to do with my life at all. It's an interesting peek at a lifestyle I have no desire to participate in.
posted by LindsayIrene at 12:51 PM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]



I feel like this kind of womanhood is inextricably linked with class.

Bingo. This reads like (dystopian) science fiction to me. Between my socio-economic class (very blue-collar) and my interests (geeky), this essay has nothing to do with my life at all. It's an interesting peek at a lifestyle I have no desire to participate in.


I don't know. I think the themes that this essay talks about are pretty much what the marketing for MLMs is built on, and those certainly cut across class lines.
posted by geegollygosh at 1:14 PM on August 3, 2019


Geez. Tolentino is a writer and a public intellectual. Her observations about Sweetgreen and Barre don't mean that "sweetgreen and barre are for late-capitalism zombies" literally, but rather reflect one facet of truth about them as part of a historial-social moment. There's also a bit of polemic in her argument. Her essay doesn't mean literally that Barre is a mechanism of mind control or whatever.
posted by schwinggg! at 1:19 PM on August 3, 2019


This article seems like peak first world problems and it think it's because there are two issues going on in this article. 1-she's chasing status symbols and 2-she's lost inside the social media bubble.

Due to 1, she's talking about eating out for lunch everyday at a place that sells $12 salads and she's going to a dance class she doesn't enjoy and she's complaining about people wearing fitwear as street clothes.

Due to 2, she's stuck "curating" everything and trying to keep up with social media. If you're not paying attention social media will make you feel like a loser because it shows you the highlights of a group of people and you compare your whole day and life to the best experiences from a group of people. It makes it feel like you have to tighten up your life so that all of it matches the highlight reel from a group of people.

Moreover 2 and 1 are creating a feedback loop. If you're not conscious about it, social media will lead you into thinking you want or need to be the kind of person who eats a $12 salad for lunch every day and goes to dance classes to be seen doing dance classes.

(Also she lives a lofty enough life that these are the biggest problems she faces rather than say having a job or healthcare or a car or the bills paid.)

People have always been chasing status symbols. This reminds me how the well to do Victorian house had a Parlor and they collected fancy china or something like that to put in them, simply to have a parlor full of the most fashionable things to out-do and one-up their other well to do Victorian friends when they came to visit. So then they were all stuck in arms races of parlors just because that was how that group of people expressed their successfulness to each other. And it looks absurd and meaningless to us (who value different things) but it was everything to them.

What's different now is social media closes the loop 24/7. Instead of having your curation contained to a parlor or your suburban green lawn and garden nowadays with social media you have to curate everything in your life 24/7. People post everything all the way to pictures of their plates at restaurants so now you have to "curate" what you choose at a restaurant and which restaurants you go to and when as well. Instead of picking a vacation you will get maximum enjoyment or relaxation from or to visit a place that you're randomly interested in, you have to "curate" your vacations to get great shots of you in front of the ocean or a sunset or some landmark. Etc.

I loath social media. I refuse to participate.
posted by Blue Tsunami at 2:08 PM on August 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


I loathe social media. I refuse to participate.
I think of Metafilter as social media. Isn’t it?
posted by Kriesa at 7:00 PM on August 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


You can participate in social media without indulging in this kind of image curating. I stick to certain close-knit circles where we share pet pics and our troubles and dumb jokes.
posted by LindsayIrene at 7:29 PM on August 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


It’s funny, I accidentally went down a rabbit hole on YouTube of 20 something women discussing their diets, skin, etc and how much money they make on YouTube to discuss their diets and otherwise perfect lives that are fabricated entirely for YouTube revenue and I have to wonder what else is going on there cognitively. That’s all these channels are, and they have millions of followers and views. These are women were probably children when YouTube was at its peak. What else do they do if they’re not searching for content for their livelihood or keeping their bodies in peak form for as long as possible?. Have these women even lived a life that wasn’t specifically for the camera? I don’t know. We’ve been been critical of ads that try to mold women into consumers but now they are the ads themselves.

Then I also read this article and started to realize that a whole generation is going to consider this their career and...I don’t know, it’s interesting. I can’t even tell if it is HARMFUL yet. But it is interesting.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:42 PM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Oh, make me over
I'm all I want to be
A walking study
In demonology

posted by fiercecupcake at 11:35 AM on August 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


GenX reference acknowledged, fiercecupcake.

This:

class (and/or precarity) is a significant determinant of this anxiety and exclusion

makes me think that the ur-text to read before reading Tolentino's work* is Elizabeth Currid-Halkett's The Sum of Small Things. Chapter 4 has a section titled "Lululemon's Groove Pant & Productive Conspicuous Leisure" and it's all about barre. She notes how the exercise visually marks someone as of a certain class:
Because the exercises isolated specific muscles through discrete movements, one’s body really looked different— toned and tightened in ways that an ordinary run, game of tennis, or visit to the gym could not accomplish.
then adds:
Irrespective of where one attends, barre classes are the consummate example of twenty-first-century conspicuous leisure. Sure, there are differences in clients, peer group for one’s conspicuous leisure, and style of dress, but the effect is the same: These classes signal financial stability and free time for leisure activities.
Anyway, that book does a lot of heavy lifting to extricate the increasing inequality and anxiety-inducing pressure-cooker expectations on the 99%, no matter where one is in that percentage.

* And TBH, this essay mines so much of the same territory Tolentino covered in her piece on Outdoor Voices for the New Yorker. At least, that's how I read it.
posted by sobell at 1:41 PM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


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