firecat: statuette of sumo crouching (sumo)
[personal profile] firecat
I was reading the following in Business Week the other day:
"Book Review: American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and Our Quest for Perfection" by June Thomas (the book reviewed is by Laurie Essig)

I was struck by the following phrase in the review:
"Splurging on a tummy tuck might actually be a sensible survival instinct."

At first I was just annoyed by the sloppiness inherent in an economic decision being called an "instinct." Let's not mix our technical jargon, mmmkay? (Later on, the phrase "rational financial decision" is used instead, which I find less sloppy.)

The book being reviewed makes the argument that less wealthy people may be getting cosmetic surgery because they see it as a way of gaining access to wealth. ("30 percent of plastic surgery patients earned less than $30,000 a year.") The author puts it this way:
"Working-class bodies, which tend to be larger and have less access to things like braces for straight teeth or dermatologists for smooth skin, also elicit more disgust than the smooth, pampered bodies of the upper classes."
I was annoyed by two things in that statement:

(1) The notion of "working-class bodies" and "upper-class bodies." There might be trends for people who are working-class to look less conventionally attractive than people who are upper-class, but I would want to see evidence.

(2) The way an opinion is presented as a statement of fact. "Working-class bodies...elicit more disgust."

I believe that specific choices about language use can influence beliefs, and beliefs can influence social reality. I think statements like that create and/or strengthen an opinion about the inherent ugliness of certain bodies, rather than simply reflecting an existing opinion.

(I need a "nitpicking" icon.)

Date: 4 Feb 2011 11:33 pm (UTC)
jesse_the_k: My head on foam mat under pine trees (CKR fuck no!)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k

I think your current icon is highly appropriate (but not instinctively so).

Date: 5 Feb 2011 12:40 am (UTC)
bcholmes: (revolution)
From: [personal profile] bcholmes
Thanks for posting this.

Date: 5 Feb 2011 01:28 am (UTC)
laughingrat: A parchment page with an all-seeing eye and a partial title reading "Of Vampires, Terrible Ghosts, Magic" (Nosferatu!)
From: [personal profile] laughingrat
Hmm, interesting--I read both of those statements as being about popular opinion, rather than statements of fact. Then again, I do tend to filter things thought my Rat Filters rather than really focusing on the text. (Seriously.) Then again, this is a pretty problematic issue, so maybe the author *should* take more care, precisely because of that.

Date: 5 Feb 2011 03:42 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
People living in poverty do tend to be fatter than people with wealth and there is a tremendous amount of classist rhetoric around that - so if the author subscribes to the conventional "thin is healthy/attractive, fat is diseased/ugly", then that would be some evidence. I agree that the phrasing is presented as an unimpeachable fact rather than an opinion, or even a finding. Of course everyone knows that those crooked-toothed acne-scarred fatties are hideous (and it correlates precisely with class)!

Date: 5 Feb 2011 04:02 am (UTC)
aquaeri: My nose is being washed by my cat (Default)
From: [personal profile] aquaeri
I can only interpret that second statement as being about this culture we live in, and for this culture, it is as far as I can tell, absolutely true (and it's likely that it's generally true for a culture that whatever the upper classes look like, that's considered more desirable, human status-seeking being what it is - look at the history of the tan for example).

Whether it's a good thing that it's true that most Western people are disgusted by fat, cheap clothes, and lack of access to luxury medical care, that's a different matter, to me. I'd love to live in a world where most people are more aware of cultural biases and think more carefully about whether they are unthinkingly reinforcing them, but I'm not optimistic.

Date: 5 Feb 2011 06:24 am (UTC)
aquaeri: My nose is being washed by my cat (Default)
From: [personal profile] aquaeri
Well, one of the issues is that it is presumably a single sentence from an entire book, and the entire book seems to be an examination/exposure of a set of beliefs, which to me immediately opens the idea of questioning and changing, which might be a different chapter.

I don't disagree with you that it's better to be explicit about what are beliefs, but as I said, I'm just not optimistic about how long it's going to take before most people think like that.

Date: 6 Feb 2011 05:39 am (UTC)
aquaeri: My nose is being washed by my cat (Default)
From: [personal profile] aquaeri
Here, tigtog says the thing I was trying to say, but better (although in the context of gaming and rape jokes, rather than fat and body image).

Date: 5 Feb 2011 07:29 pm (UTC)
kalmn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kalmn
i think that in general, the working class elicits more disgust. and that is due to rampant classism. so, if your body looks like you have a trainer who works with you on having sleek muscles but not too many of them, you're read as upper class (well, if you were naked) and if you don't, you're not.

that is my thirty second i have to go take a shower and do some dishes opinion on that. :)

Date: 4 Feb 2011 11:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Remember that "working class" includes a number of very physically-demanding trades, at least for men -- construction workers, police and firemen come immediately to mind. So there's some genderism in that statement as well.

Date: 4 Feb 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I suspect the phrasing, throughout, says something about the writer's class. And, um, lack of class.

Date: 5 Feb 2011 01:08 am (UTC)
fauxklore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] fauxklore
There's some confusion between cause and effect. There's lots of evidence that the "desirable" body type is the one that is harder for people of limited means to attain. What type that is has, of course, changed through history.

Date: 5 Feb 2011 01:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The WashPost has an article from Essig on those things (

Date: 5 Feb 2011 01:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The upper class seems to be trying to speciate away from the rest of us.

A couple of years ago there was an article in one of the major news media in which the author (male) said that women who spend less than $600/month on beauty maintenance just aren't trying hard enough. I wonder if the existence of people who live on $600/month or less is something of which he is ignorant or which he considers irrelevant.

Date: 5 Feb 2011 06:22 am (UTC)
jenk: Faye (Anal-Retentive)
From: [personal profile] jenk
You are welcome to use this icon if you wish.

Date: 6 Feb 2011 08:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"No, but 'obsessive-compulsive' does."

Date: 5 Feb 2011 06:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What incredibly sloppy writing.


firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
firecat (attention machine in need of calibration)

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