You're at a party. An incredibly striking woman walks into the room, maybe 5 feet 11, less than 120 pounds. You don't know her given name. But, in your mind, you immediately give her one. What is it? If you're like the average woman, maybe 5 feet 4, around 135 pounds, chances are the name you give her rhymes with witch. Yeah, you know the one.
As usual, thin is in. But it is also in the line of fire among a conflicted culture of people. We salivate at the thought of a magic diet pill, and at the same time we curse the beauty industry that continually pushes forth waifs as the beauty ideal.
In the September issue of Vogue (which, by the way, weighs a ton at 708 pages), writer Rebecca Johnson looks at the backlash against thin people, particularly against fashion models, who get the brunt of the criticism. In an article titled "The Body Myth," Johnson asks and tries to answer the question "Why does skinniness make people so mad?"
The article is well-written, with compelling arguments that touch on feminist issues, scientific data on what is considered healthy, and the causes of anorexia, which Johnson contends has nothing to do with the influence of skinny magazine models.
Writes Johnson: "Feminists cite this broad-based preference for skinniness as proof of male-dominated society's tyranny over women's bodies. I think they're wrong on this one. To begin with, thinness as an ideal has traditionally accompanied periods of greater freedom for women. It was in the 1920s, when we won the right to vote, that skirt lengths went up and the boyish flapper body came into vogue. In the movies, curves sexualize and humanize, but formidable careerists -- Faye Dunaway in 'Network,' Sigourney Weaver in 'Working Girl' are tall, skinny and angular."
The writer's point is that the public shouldn't be upset with thin models who are just doing their job of looking extreme. The anger surfaces, she says, because models remind other women of their own perceived physical flaws.
"We are a culture of strivers. Whatever we have, whoever we are, it's never enough," writes Johnson. "There is always someone at the party who is thinner and prettier. If we seemed obsessed, it's because beauty, for women, is the promise of happiness."
She gives us something to think about. But, of course, this is Vogue. And the writer has overlooked a question. How did we get this way? Why have we become so obsessed? Is it perhaps because we can pick up magazines like Vogue and look at cover models wearing paper-thin slip dresses that would look good only on the world's most perfect body?
Speaking of women and images, Mirabella's September/October issue turns its attention to President Clinton's partner. No, not Al Gore -- Hillary Rodham Clinton. With the election pending, the magazine takes the opportunity to look at the popular sport of Hillary-bashing. "Hillary Under Fire" features the thoughts of a wide mix of people, from Gloria Steinem to Ann Stone, chairwoman of Republicans for Choice, talking about why so many love to hate Hillary. Some of the comments shed light on the issue. But some are too far-reaching, like the attempt at humor by performance artist Holly Hughes: "The Clintons got in trouble because they have one cat as opposed to two or more dogs. All the ways that cats are trashed in this culture are ways women are trashed: They're sneaky, devious and don't come when they're called."
Mostly, fingers are pointed in all directions, from "she is a powerful woman" to "she is not who she pretends to be." There is no real consensus.
The more interesting read is "First Ladies Need Not Apply." It's one writer's witty take on the role of any first lady and how she, if she works outside the White House, will never be able to satisfy all of the people, even some of the time. Even supporting a cause is tricky these days, the writer contends. "Jackie was a beloved patron of the arts. But now the NEA is more controversial than the CIA. Would she have invited Robert Mapplethorpe to dinner?"
Is it just me, or is McCall's magazine beginning to sound more and more like a tabloid? Two articles this month scream with headlines: "The Woman I Trusted Killed My Baby" and "Tales From Beyond the Grave."
In addition to those two sensational items, there is a profile of Martha Stewart that sheds more light on her mania and further proves that we can buy all the glue guns in the world and we will never be able to hold a handmade candle to her. In the profile, the writer tells us that though it is only noon, the Mistress of Perfect Homemaking has already been up for eight hours -- writing memos, reading papers, packing for a trip, completing her 5: 30 a.m. workout, appearing on "Today," refinancing her mortgages, consulting on a new line of Martha Stewart towels and visiting the offices of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
Whew. And that's a good thing?
Where they are now
For anyone who still cares, the latest People magazine answers the question no one is asking: With the O. J.. Simpson civil case under way, whatever happened to Kato Kaelin (the house guest), Paula Barbieri (the girlfriend) and Mark Fuhrman (the cop)? It is nice to know, however, that Mr. N-word, former L.A. cop Fuhrman, is working as an apprentice electrician in Idaho.
"I've been with Mark for many hours," Fuhrman's boss tells People. "He's a great storyteller." No lie.
Pub Date: 9/29/96