She posts frequently – links to her personal website, and announcements about her TV appearances. Fonda recently posted a TED talk. TED, tagline “ideas worth spreading,” is a both a conference and virtual space that “offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.” It is worth a look, if you’re not familiar.
In any case, Fonda’s talk was about “Life’s Third Act.” Now in her 70s, Fonda is taking on aging, advocating for a new paradigm for thinking about what it means to grow older: age as potential, rather than age as decline. The “third act” metaphor is appropriate for Fonda, though perhaps it is more appropriate to see this as her fourth or fifth life. Fonda started out as an actress in the 1960s (her first act). Though sometimes associated with the sexy and campy Barbarella (1968) , she has twice been nominated for an academy award. By the late-1960s Fonda was involved in radical proto-Marxist style politics. She starred in Godard’s Tout Va Bien (1972) which examined the class struggle – and a film about which I wrote a first year film essay. In the same year Fonda got herself into some trouble – in America at least – for her critique of the Vietnam War and (perceived) sympathies for the North Vietnamese. Of that time, Fonda has expressed both regret and frustration, with the misrepresentation of her position on the war (her second act).
Subtitle of this post: if you like the same stuff I like.
I like popular culture that deals with regular people and everyday concerns. So, Mindy Kaling’s new book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? was a treat to read. The book is short, mostly biographical, and includes some sharp observations about beauty and the body in contemporary (North) America. For example, Kaling rightly observes that the word “fat” means so many different things to different people that it has become meaningless. She then offers a tongue-in-cheek breakdown of categories of fatness from “chubster” to “obeseotron” to explain the different types of large bodies we see (or don’t see) in popular culture. I suspect some folks on the Fat Studies listserv will have something to say about Kaling’s commentary on body size, but I see it as satire, especially because of the fun and funny critical commentary on women in popular culture that comes later in the book.
I’ve been working on a review article for a new journal, Fat Studies, on recent exercise DVDs for larger people. The DVDs (Yoga, Belly Dancing, Scuba) are all great – I won’t pre-empt the review here.
Instead, I’ll note that in preparation for writing the article I reviewed some new and older medical studies on the benefits of exercise for people who are defined medically as “obese.” This research, published in places like The New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that exercise, cardiovascular health and blood pressure, rather than weight and food intake, are key determinants of health.
Drop Dead Diva is one of a handful of American television shows featuring a full-figured lead actor. The premise of the show is quite silly – Deb, a wannabe Price is Right model dies in a car accident and hits the “return” button at the Pearly Gates when the bureaucrat she meets is trying to decide where to send her. Jane is a successful attorney who gets shot in the crossfire during an altercation at her office. As Jane lies dying on an operating table Deb’s soul enters her body and – voila – Deb is now Jane – a skinny model “trapped” inside the body of a full-figured attorney.
I’m excited to be part of a book released today by WLU Press called Gender, Health, and Popular Culture: Historical Perspectives.
Proposals for papers are invited for a symposium and an edited collection of essays on critical perspectives on Obesity in Canada. In Canada estimated obesity rates have risen over the course of the twentieth century, though the measurement and criteria for being obese have also changed during this time (Mitchinson 2009). Particular groups in Canada, notably low income people, are more likely to be labelled obese, and yet a glance through newspapers, magazines and television shows suggests that fatness and staying slim are the preoccupations of the middle class (Raine 2004). In 2003 the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that “almost all countries” around the world were experiencing an “obesity epidemic” as a result of increasing industrialization, mechanization and urbanization (WHO 2003). WHO’s report legitimized escalating fears that the world’s population was growing fatter and provided a focus for more general concerns about normal body weight and shape.
In my last post I mentioned I have a soft spot for Queen Latifah movies. I’m not sure I’ve ever said that out loud before, and now it is on the internet forever. Oh well. Over the weekend I’ve been trying to decide what it is about QL that I find so compelling, aside from the obvious, which is that she is one of the only full-figured actresses in Hollywood. I also took a look at one of QL’s latest films Just Wright, where she plays Leslie Wright, a physiotherapist who trains New Jersey Nets player Steve McKnight back to health just in time for playoff season.
“I scanned the booklet which listed foods I could eat the first week. A few of my favourites were missing. Dry white wine. Crisp toasted bialys. Milk chocolate Dove bars. I’d have to make substitutions. The book contained some kind of diabolically complicated food exchange system. I tried to decode it. If two ounces of chicken equalled one protein exchange and I was allowed six protein exchanges a day, how many acrobats could stir a ’59 Buick in May?” (35).
I picked up a copy of The Dieter by Susan Sussman at a used book sale. The plot: Barbara Avers quits smoking after losing a friend to breast cancer. Her weight increases from 105lbs to 190lb during her increasingly desperate attempts at dieting.
What I like about Sussman’s book are her observations about the sometimes absurd things we do to change the size and shape of our bodies – liquid diets, cybex machines and those little machines that jiggle your bum to firm [?] your thighs. This isn’t a simple story of weight gained and then lost. Barbara gains weight, splits from her husband, finds a new lover, gets a better job, and finishes the story at a healthy 150lbs. The book is really hilarious and it captures Barbara’s obsession with counting calories, a process so complex that she (and we?) lose site of the pleasure to be found in good food. By the end of the book Barbara has transformed her outlook on dieting:
The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival started in 1976 and is still held annually near Grand Rapids, MI. MWMF is a woman-only event featuring female musicians and personal-development workshops around pretty much any topic you can think of from yodeling, to massage, to sex (technique and politics), to health, to cats, to white privilege, to coming out as a lesbian, to child rearing. About 7000 women from more than 20 countries attend the Festival every year.
A lot of Canadian women have crossed the border into Michigan to attend the festival and I want to know more about why they go, what they learn and who they meet. I already know that members of (what became) the Montréal-based group LG5 (lesbiennes grosse cinq or five fat lesbians) were inspired to form their organization after meeting fat activists from the Fat Underground and Boston Area Fat Liberation groups in Michigan in 1979. Last week I was visiting the Brooklyn-based Lesbian Herstory Archives to try to clarify the origins of the LG5/FU/BAFL relationship.
Because of my dissertation topic (fat women’s organizations in Canada), I often think about, and love to talk about, representations of fat people in popular culture. Indulging this love of talking, thinking, and fatness, my friend Adene said in a recent email:
Have you caught all the talk about Glee (the cool guy being into the fat girl)? The entertainment shows are treating this storyline as revolutionary but there’s a part of me that wonders if the storyline was introduced because it was funny, and so well accepted because audiences may have considered it unrealistic. What do you think?
Good point, right?