Today I read this article in the Guardian (a UK broadsheet newspaper) online edition. I found it very thought provoking, and although I don't agree with it 100% (and although she tries to exclude eating disorders from discussion, realistically it can be seen as offensive towards those with a preoccupation with food) there were points that I liked.
It certainly seems to be in conflict with the ideas at the heart of this community - that is, the idea that we can be intelligent yet still concerned with food and weight, and that we can interrogate our eating preoccupations in a way that is interesting.
You're vain and stupid
Women who fixate on their weight should relinquish their right to be taken seriously
Wednesday January 17, 2007
It is a paradox remarkably often noted: why would otherwise intelligent women, educated to a high standard, interested in global politics, etc, etc, worry about something so meaningless as their weight? This curiosity is currently being interrogated by India Knight who, with her friend Neris Thomas, has written a diet book. It must be an intelligent book, since they are both manifestly intelligent, as attested by their high professional status (Knight is a writer and Thomas a film producer). And yet it is also, undeniably, about dieting. Riddle-me-ree.
Behaviours that are very different tend to cluster together where food is concerned: so, being fat, dieting successfully, attaining a more normal shape, this is a funny old thing for an intelligent woman to be concerned with. At the same time, being a normal shape already, fixating over the deficiencies of said shape, developing an abnormal relationship with and neurotic strategies around food, this is apparently the same "paradox". "We're intelligent," runs the mantra, "how extraordinary that in this area we should be so irrational."
It is not unthinkable that a neurosis will take hold of an intelligent individual. Fear of flying is no respecter of IQ - nor is a terror of walking under ladders, nor a horror of shagging someone who later turns out to be a Sagittarius. The point at which these things cease to be quirks and begin to interfere with your mental faculties, or the world's perception thereof, is not so much when you lose control of them as when you stop trying to control them. You would, conversely, think that a person who went on about star signs was quite stupid.
Few people are rational all the time. Irrationality remains concomitant with intelligence only for as long as it is self-aware, limited and doesn't make too much of a song and dance about itself. To return to the original paradox, then - no, it is not a paradox. Women who fixate on their weight, unless we're dealing with eating disorders, are not intelligent. Intelligence is not bestowed at birth, assessed through childhood and fixed until death. It is an aggregate of what you've got and what you do with it.
If you chuck it all away counting calories and wondering what size a Gap 2 really is in English, then that does not sit oddly atop your intelligence, like a monkey on a camel. The act of concentrating on trivia locks your mind like a bandsaw in one direction. It precludes the kind of inquiry that might make you extend yourself. It simply makes you less intelligent. Maybe this sounds needlessly aggressive, but it's very annoying - this is not a strange and unbidden concern, foisted upon us by society, as the size-zero debate tries to fashion it. It's just individual vanity. "Society" isn't leading this - society can't even keep up with the scale of it. I'm not preaching the total expulsion of vanity - few people are without it, and when people are it's slightly freakish, like being double-jointed - but the very least you can do in mitigation is acknowledge it for what it is.
The real mystery is how people get away with fixating on themselves like this without relinquishing their right to be taken seriously. First, I think the whole weight-loss industry has flourished in tandem with a wider, so-called ironic embrace of low culture. You can't be called on it, because you'll just turn around and say: "Oh, but I was just being silly! Can't you see?" (To pre-empt the charge that I'm always embracing/banging on about low culture, some of it is worth interrogating! Well, let's leave that for another day.) But, second, and more importantly, I think women get away with it by painting themselves as victims of society's objectification. As a strategy, this is an incredible betrayal of feminism: women still are victims of objectification, there still is a case to answer; but this feverish, industrial narcissism is a different matter altogether.> cut for length and potential offensiveness
But I recommend reading it online because the comments, not pasted here, are also interesting.
[...a preoccupation with dieting] "does not sit oddly atop your intelligence, like a monkey on a camel."