A Blow to the "Gazelle-like"

Reuters is reporting that Madrid's fashion week, a premiere fashion show, has stirred controversy by launching a ban on “overly thin” models, citing the promotion of unhealthy body image as leading to eating disorders like anorexia and bullemia.

Roughly a year and a half ago, I blogged about “Skinny White Bitches“, referencing mainstream standards of beauty as being unhealthily skewed towards the unbelievably thin and racialized to marginalize people of colour. At the end of my rant I asked,

But then again, I look at Sarah Jessica Parker and Joss Stone, and I wonder why it is that the Gap and other clothing companies, which carry so much influence over young women's sense of beauty, can't promote more representative body types of all colours? Why can't traditionally white magazines like Cosmo and Sixteen feature beautiful, full-figured women of colour?

I responded to these questions by saying:

The bottom line is that, in the short term, that would translate into a loss of sales as the women already socialized into hating their own bodies would refuse to buy the magazines.

I'm glad to see that I was wrong.

I was pleasantly shocked this morning when I read the headline — could it really be? Was the same fashion industry that has for a generation lauded the “famine-druggie-chic” of Kate Moss once again promoting more healthy female forms that leave room for a woman to possess internal organs in their proper placement? By placing itself at the forefront of this socially responsible act, Madrid is sending the message that it's not just about money anymore, that industries must take responsibility for how their products can cause deleterious effects on society, even if those effects are intangible and hard to quantify.

Of course, what's most fun about the article is not the ban on overly-thin models, but the modeling agencies' response to the restriction. Cathy Gould of New York's Elite modeling agency is quoted as coming to the defense of (get this) “gazelle-like” models:

“I think its outrageous, I understand they want to set this tone of healthy beautiful women, but what about discrimination against the model and what about the freedom of the designer[?]”

First of all, I think the word of the day must be “gazelle-like”. Talk about a great euphemism for “starving”. Imagine if the U.N. started sending humanitarian aid not to regions of famine, but to rescue people from “gazelle-like” conditions. Or that you couldn't buy clothing in S, M or L, but in “gazelle-like”, “gazelle-ish”, and “gazelle-not”.

And secondly, why should I care about discrimination against the model? If I were worried about discrimination against fashion models, I would speak out against the treatment of fashion models as walking clothes hangars, without brains, doomed to an existence of being seen and not heard. I would speak out against the inherent sexism of dressing women up and parading them around like dolls to be leered at by salivating men. I would speak out against an industry using women to tell other women how to think about themselves, other women, and the world around them.

But talking about discrimination against skinny fashion models — with the emphasis on skinny — is like talking about discrimination against Whites because we want to remove White privilege. Talking about discrimination against skinny models is like saying that Aundrea, Aubrey, Dawn and Shannon of Danity Kane fame are losing out because D. Wood's bootylicious ass (far left in the picture below) is getting paid to be on the same CD case as they are (albeit clothed in more layers than the rest of their outfits combined to hide the “rolls” and pushed off to the side so that we can focus on the skinny White bitches who get to take center stage).

Yes, after this restriction, it might be harder for a skinny fashion model to get a job, but only harder because now the playing field is being equalized as more “plus-sized” models (as in, plus compared to size 2) get the jobs that have been long denied to them because of discrimination they face in favour of the skinny models. And as a girl who wears size 8-10, I'm all the happier because of it. The fashion industry needs to realize that we (the “plus-sized” women) are beautiful and their consumer base.

And maybe all this will actually lead to the second necessary step in the fashion industry: revolutions in clothing that can actually fit a normally-sized woman. How often has the average woman seen a beautiful outfit that they would love to wear, except that it only fits right when made in sizes 0-4? As a buxom curvaceous woman, it's virtually impossible to find a trendy outfit that not only fits my curves, but actually hangs properly when it does it. So many of the latest fashion trends have been made to fit those with “gazelle-like” figures: from Uggs to those poofy skirts, to the peasant tops — all these cuts of clothing tend to make any but the most stick-figure thin look short and dumpy.

Activists are frequently asked for pro-active solutions to social problems. For Asian Americans, for example, we often must address the question if Asian American screenwriters are doing enough to increase the quality and quantify of Asian American representation on the big screen. And when we say “no”, we're usually cited as being impossible to please and asking too much.

Well, here, Madrid has set a fine example of what can be done by leading members of a particular industry. The Madrid fashion week is a prestigious event and rather than shirk from what it feels are its moral obligations, Madrid threw care to the wind and took a bold stand — one which the fashion industry is more-or-less forced to abide by. Madrid's stance has also made the world consider more closely the role that fashion models play in our standards of beauty and the connection between that and ever-increasing instances of eating disorders in the world's youth. Madrid has shown by its action that this is an international problem with an equally international (and, really, relatively simple) solution. All it took was one person (or in this case, one city) to take an unpopular stance.

That being said, one down-side is that Madrid will be using BMI to make its determination of who can and cannot participate in the fashion week. Although it's better to use numbers than subjective characteristics, the BMI is a flawed index that is incapable of distinguishing between fat vs. muscle content of a person's body. Although it's hard to conceive of a more precise measurement that is as easy to take, that probably would have been preferred over supporting the BMI.

What Are You?

Yes, I'm just catching up on my email…

Eric Stoller blogged recently about his girlfriend being confronted with the “what are you” question, and queried as to why many Whites feel the need to put people of colour into identifiable little boxes.

To me, it's just a by-product of the Other-izing of minorities. For many Whites, who are, by definition, never face the racial degradation of Otherizing (or even conscious membership to a racial community) see nothing wrong with being curious about a “different person”'s background or appearance. For some, there is a fascination with being visibly different, for others, it is a belief that racism exists only as racial slurs and sodomizing broomsticks, and cannot be found within an “innocent question” posed by a curious and nonetheless open-minded White liberal.

The truth is that people of colour loathe the “what are you” question because it's a reminder of the inequality we face inherent to our racial background. “What are you” suggests that we are not them, we are not normal, we are different. Though the White querient may believe the question is not harmful, they never consider how the very non sequitor nature of the question not only reminds us of our “Other”-izing but showcases the mindset of Whites who feel entitled to the knowledge.

I'm frequently asked by Whites “what I am” — and these questions are usually followed by comments about Chinese culture that supposedly connect them to my background. I haven't quite figured out how to respond to these kinds of questions, but I certainly know that I'm tired of being a “what” in the first place.

Where I've Been

Yeah, I know, my sporadic posting is getting annoying, even to me. I just thought I'd give you guys a brief update on my life while I'm in the blogging mood. Class started in the last week of August, and on August 24th, I celebrated my 24th birthday with a busy day of classes and research. Over the summer, I started a research project that I hoped to complete by the beginning of the fall semester, but anyone who has performed any kind of research would've been able to tell me that research never goes as quickly as you plan.

At the start of the school year, I'm now balancing a full class schedule (including an ethics class, a statistics class, and an advanced class on cell signalling), as well as still trying to finish the research project that has me rotating between three different laboratories. I feel very displaced, without an office or desk to call my own and a lot more commitments than I had originally intended to have by this time. Subsequently, I find myself working 12-hour days and weekends, with each day packed with experiments and me running from lab to lab trying to stay on top of deadlines.

When I get home, I rarely have much mental capacity left to do much of anything, nor have I had a chance to stay on top of pop culture. I didn't hear about Bush's inane speeches of the past week until just this morning.

So thanks, everyone, for continuing to read this blog despite my chronic lack of posting. I hope things will slow down soon and I can get back to this, which has become one of few sources of fun I have to me.

Incidentally, one other thing I've been working on is serving on the recruitment committee for my program, where my goal for the year is to double applicant numbers and increase outreach to undergraduates of colour to encourage them to seek graduate-level training in sciences. To that end, after working all summer, I was able to work with other students and faculty to update my program's website! It took hundreds of man-hours but I'm proud that the site has been launched!

Now that the site's up, my time is a lot more free and I can get back to blogging.

Apl Song vs. London Bridge

About a month ago, the online Asian American community was desperately hawking the Black Eyed Peas, actively advocating for their song “Bebot” which was rapped entirely in Tagalog and stirring all kinds of Asian American pride. (I wanted to include the YouTube clip here, but unfortunately it's no longer up.) The Apl Song also features the narrative of Filipino Americans

And sure, heightened visibility for Asian/Asian American cultures is great, and I certainly love the Apl Song music video featuring 1920's era Filipino American dance halls. But there's a really good reason why the Black Eyed Peas don't deserve our support: London Bridge.

Any group whose lead singer has released a track telling men that they will “love me long time” should be chastised by the Asian American community, not praised. (Don't subject yourself to the whole song; it's awful. The lyric in question is within the first verse of the song — keep watching only if you want to see Fergie sexually molest one of those guys with the fuzzy hats who have to stand outside of Buckingham palace.)

We, Asian Americans, need to stop throwing our support at any celebrity who shows us attention. Are we really that desperate for pop culture love? That's like celebrating that awful, racist Helio commercial because it features “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner” with an Asian twist.

Indoctrinators and Educators

It's a common theme amongst complaining Conservatives: liberals dominate higher education, liberals indoctrinate our youth with biased proselytizing. If Ann Coulter is to be believed, liberal university professors are the theologists of the liberal religion and we hate any science that doesn't support liberal causes.

And certainly, the statistics do support this perspective in part. Democrats are statistically and stereotypically higher educated and clustered in academia, but, contrary to the line spewed in Conservative pulp-trash like Bernard Goldberg's 100 People Who are Screwing Up America, most of these liberals, though espousing democratic political leanings, are careful not to bias their students.

Several news stories have publicized liberal teachers who have been disciplined for infusing their political leanings into their teachings, and have used these instances to argue that vocal liberals should not be allowed to teach classes, or at the very least to support their diatribe against Democrats in higher education. However, I would argue that the problem here is not Democrats who teach, but teachers who can't distinguish between their political ideologies and their jobs.

Last week, in my ethics class, a professor was lecturing about technology transfer and intellectual property, but ended up trying to indoctrinate us in fiscally conservative, hyper-right-wing capitalism and anti-liberal hate-mongering. Amongst the tidbits that I learned include the choice quotes: “pursuit of money is our patriotic duty as Americans” and “Democrats are happy to let sick people suffer by letting medical technology stay on the vine”. From this professor, I also learned that the federal government protects its people from companies that form monopolies and prevent exorbitant prices resulting from patented technology, and that pursuit of further scientific research will not be hindered by increased prices due to having to pay royalties. The professor also chastised his (liberal) colleagues who refuse to prosecute patents, and poo-poo'd other ethical questions about patenting findings paid for by public money. And let us not forget when the professor went on to declare that “third world countries like Zimbabwe and Vietname” deserve their poverty because they (and they alone) try to control intellectual freedom by denying their populace pork.

I and the thirty other graduate students in this class were forced to sit through this lecture, the second one of the year, although many of us were offended by the content of the talk. Certainly, from this experience, I was all the more sympathetic to Conservative students who feel alienated by their liberal professors, but the problem was not in my professor's political ideologies (offensive though they might be) but in his soap-boxing. Not only was my professor trying to convert his forcibly captive audience into raging capitalists, but, in a class about graduate-level ethics encountered by those pursuing careers in scientific research, we didn't actually learn anything about ethics or how to patent our ideas.

Lecturers like the one I encountered and the ones Coulter and company complain about are not rare, but they certainly do not outnumber the truly good teachers out there who happen to have private political tendancies. And certainly, any professor or teacher is, in my opinion, welcome to introduce political ideology into a class that is explicitly about politics, sociology, or current events.

The talking heads should not be interested in typecasting their political opponents as indoctrinators — rather, as we continue to strive towards improving the level of education in this country, both the left and the right should be able to agree upon one thing: whether conservative or liberal, teachers shouldn't proselytize at the expense of good teaching.